Automotive Digital Marketing

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Consumer shopping behavior has shifted in response to recent economic changes. In fact, many consumers believe that the current economic issues are long-term and will have permanent effects on how they spend money.1 Since consumers have become more discerning about their purchases, they are also spending more time researching and comparing in the online space, actively choosing to engage with the medium to scrutinize potential purchases. In fact, car shoppers spend an average of 55 minutes a month during the 6 months prior to buying a car.2

Here we will look at today's new automotive consumer profile, as well as demonstrate how to use the Internet to impact consumers' decision-making process.

The New Attitude of Car Shoppers

Today's car shoppers are different. A 2009 study of 1500 car shoppers about the economic impact on their shopping behavior revealed that:

  • Consumers are less impulsive about purchases due to the perceived risk.3
  • They are concerned about making a wrong decision and being "stuck" with the wrong vehicle or high monthly payments.3
  • And they are giving more consideration to major purchases, like vehicles.3

This information may not come as a surprise, but what’s important is how this feedback affects the way you market your vehicles in an environment where savvy has become the new status symbol.

The Internet: An Influencing Medium

The goal of any advertising is to provide stimulus that creates a response. In other words, your advertising should motivate consumers to take that next step in the car shopping process. That means you want shoppers going online to your virtual showroom, or even better, walking onto your lot. In fact, according to the Northwood Dealer Walk-In Study,4 "advertising" was cited as one of the top four reasons leading shoppers to walk into the dealership. Furthermore, more than half of walk-in traffic can be attributed to Internet advertising, according to the study.

How does this information relate to today’s conscientious consumer? Because the research and information that car shoppers find online influences not only WHAT car they buy, but WHO they buy it from. As a result, the Internet is the uniquely qualified medium to forward your value proposition to these more thoughtful shoppers. But in order to influence these shoppers, you must have the value conversation upfront in your advertising.

Advertising Tips that Build Value

Influencing today’s consumer starts by addressing the inherent questions they have about buying a car. Essentially, it’s your chance to tell potential customers why they should choose YOUR dealership and YOUR vehicle.

Remember the economic impact study from earlier?3 Part of what we can learn from this study is what today’s car shoppers want from dealers in the online space. According to the study, car shoppers want:

  1. “Real” Information to Ensure a Good Purchase

    While it might seem rather abstract, the point here is that what you represent online should be a accurate portrayal of the vehicle. The price should be consistent across all forms of advertising – all the way down to the window sticker. The condition of the car should be represented accurately. Photos of the car should be an accurate reflection of the vehicle’s condition. The bottom line is: inconsistencies erode trust. A customer wants to know what they’re getting up front, so if they show up to your dealership and the vehicle is not there, the price is different or it’s not in the same condition as it appears online, not only do you risk losing sales but you also risk damaging your reputation.

  2. To See Inventory on Local Dealership Lots

    It’s not just inventory, however. Consumers want to see cars posted online with their price and with a lot of photos of the actual car. When it comes to photos, the more the better.

  3. To Compare Incentives Online

    Right now consumers are looking for the absolute best deal and doing their homework online to find it. Now, that’s not to say that they will forsake value for a low price. But compared to one year ago, consumers are making greater use of the tools at their disposal to be smart, conscientious shoppers. In fact, 57% more are looking around for sales, 47% more are using coupons and 45% more are comparison shopping, while 32% consumers are buying less on credit and 60% are making fewer spontaneous purchases.1 Keep this information in mind when it comes to creating Special Offers and Incentives for your vehicles.

  4. The Perfect Vehicle for Their Personality & Lifestyle

    In your online merchandising, here is an opportunity to tell the car's value story with custom comments. Don't just list a car's features. Make the vehicle stand out by giving specific details that allow shoppers to see, touch, feel and experience it. For example, "Room for eight. Back seat folds down for extra storage – makes a great family car!"

What Else Can You Do?

Include a Vehicle History Report: Car shoppers want to know a vehicle is reliable, and right now one of the biggest concerns for consumers is making a wrong decision. A vehicle history report can help allay their fears.

Merchandise Your Dealership on Third-Party Sites: A large number of consumers visit independent sites, so you need to get your value message where shoppers are looking first. In fact, 89% of auto shoppers visit independents – that’s more than the number of auto shoppers who visit manufacturer and dealer sites.5 If you’ve won awards for community service, customer service, or manufacturer awards, then say so in your dealership description. Don’t forget to demonstrate your customer focus, either. For example, “Built on the principles of genuine caring and personal service.”

Manage Your Online Reputation: With so many people on social networking sites and user-generated content sites, it’s important to make sure you are effectively managing your reputation online. Social media is a powerful component of how the Internet influences consumers. Because it’s peer-to-peer generated content, consumers don’t feel like they’re being “pitched” and that it’s an accurate assessment of another customer’s experience. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to sit idly by while your dealership reputation is being talked about in the online community.

Get involved: Just keep in mind that anything you post online has the potential to go viral or enter mainstream media. What’s blogged, posted, etc. can live forever, so be diligent and use discretion.

Monitor major blogs for comments: (Google Alerts is a free service dealers can use.) Respond to questions or comments in order to demonstrate responsiveness and to provide your dealership perspective. Try to avoid responding to negative comments without merit; however, DO respond to posts that are factually incorrect in order to set the record straight. If a customer has had a legitimately bad experience with your dealership, attempt to make it right with the consumer by offering an incentive or ask for the chance to speak with them in person to rectify the situation.

1 *Doner, “Art of the Possible,” 2008-2009
2 J.D. Power and Associates and Compete Inc., 2009 Web Site Performance Tools Report—Wave 1
3 Greenfield Consulting Qualitative Research, Feb 2009 & Moskowitz Jacobs Qualitative Research, March 2009
4 Dealer Walk-In Study, Northwood University &, November 2008
5 2008 J.D. Power New & Used Vehicle Market Reports

Eddie Cawley is the Director of Dealer Training for He can be reached at


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