The auto industry works hard to understand consumers, including why, where, when and how they shop.
The problem is consumers keep changing the rules. Today, multi-device, multi-touch shoppers are relying on an ever-changing mosaic of touch points and devices that influence their behavior from the moment they think about buying a car to the moment they drive off the lot in one.
Consumers live in an omnichannel world. As a result, automotive marketers must adopt metrics that are multi-dimensional.
Cars.com research shows 43% of shoppers don’t contact a dealership before they visit one. Yet, they come in armed to the teeth with information and insights from multiple online resources.
1. Follow the Consumer Journey
Consumers are influenced by a wide range touch points between awareness and purchase. Auto advertisers during the big game averaged a 7% lift to their brand pages on Cars.com and a 238% lift to the pages of specific models highlighted during the game spots.
That suggests consumers watch ads, but they don’t directly buy from them. They go to other sources to validate what they see and hear before considering what car to buy and where to buy it from.
2. The Importance of Transparency
Consumers are in the driver’s seat. And they live at a time of great distrust of brands in general. They possess the technology to protect their privacy. They will give up information, but only on their own time and terms, such as when they’re ready to buy.
On the path to purchase, they’re more likely to trust each other, and share with each other, as opposed to having that conversation with the brand.
That peer-to-peer validation underscores why online reviews are so important, especially in the auto industry.
Half of consumers won’t purchase without first reading reviews. In addition, consumers demand transparency around pricing. Once they have determined what car to buy they want to know if they are paying a fair price.
Consumers go to third-party sites for reviews and to unearth pricing details from multiple dealers and brands before they walk into a dealership.
3. Master Mobile
Mobile has profoundly changed consumer behavior. The majority of car shopping and researching is done online.
Smartphones are used for nearly half of all online car shopping activities, and mobile has made it possible for consumers to shop and research while they are on the lot.
Our mobile study shows 63% of auto shoppers still were researching dealerships after walking on a dealer’s lot, and more than half of those visited additional dealerships based on what they found on their mobile devices.
Mobile is more than a device. It’s an online research assistant that goes with consumers everywhere, making them smarter each step of the way. Dealers need to understand how mobile touches the way people shop, especially Millennials, who live and breathe mobile.
For instance, understanding how mobile influences on-the-lot behavior should convince any dealer why branded search advertising alone won’t win over anyone.
Dealership sales teams should know how to manage the wants and needs of mobile-empowered consumers after they show up on the lot and check out inventory while researching the competition’s inventory on their phone at the same time?
4. Think Quality, Not Quantity
Generating leads is not enough. Influencing the right people at the right time in the car-shopping journey is the name of the game.
Too many dealers are relying on traditional attribution measures that fail to quantify quality. For example, dealers continue to rely on traditional “Internet leads” in their customer-relationship management systems, yet industry knowledge tells us lead forms result in a small percentage of actual purchases within 40-60 days.
On the other hand, our research shows 40% of walk-in customers buy that same day, and 70% do so within 72 hours. Walk-ins are higher quality leads. They’re ready to buy because they’ve done their research.
Just to put walk-in leads in perspective: Cars.com alone had as many as 7 million leads in 2016 that were not recognized as traditional leads.
Understand the quality of walk-in leads. They have done their research online and are ready to buy after doing all the heavy lifting on their own terms.
Walk-in traffic is just one example demonstrating why dealers need to embrace quality metrics, not just any metrics.
Consumers Write the Rules
The automotive industry is not the only one challenged to understand consumer behavior in an omnichannel world.
Making decisions on how to reach and influence consumers requires dealers to make a fundamental shift from the quantity of traditional leads to the quality of their connections and interactions, from last-click attribution to multi-touch attribution that recognizes the complexity of the consumer journey across channels and devices.
Dealers willing to master the new rules of attribution will win with consumers who are writing the rules.
John Clavadetscher is Cars.com’s chief revenue officer.He can be reached at email@example.com.