The Automotive Path to Purchase – Learning How to Connect with Shoppers When It Matters the Most

trees-1030853_960_720I’m warning you. Stop reading if you don’t want your mind blown. No, I won’t make you want till the end of the post before blowing it, I’m going to do it right up front. First though, what I’m about to say may tick you off. Why? Because it goes against everything you’ve been told as an auto dealership. It’s probably what you’ve been striving for every waking moment of every day, at least in regards to your dealerships website.

Here it is: The VDP (vehicle details page) isn’t always the best place to land shoppers. In fact, landing people on the VDP or even the SRP (search results page) could be doing you more harm than good. There, I said it. It needed to be said. Every dealership across the country is trying to figure out how they can get more VDP views, aren’t you?

So, where is the best place to land people on your website? My answer to that is it depends. No, I’m not wimping out here, I’ll explain everything. You see, it all depends where in the buying funnel people are. There are 5 different levels by the way, and they are.

  • Awareness
  • Interest
  • Consideration
  • Shop
  • Buy

An example would be if somebody wasn’t quite sure if they wanted to go with the F-150 or the Silverado and you were a Ford dealership tasked with conquesting people who are searching for Silverado’s. Typically, a paid search ad is created (targeting Silverado keywords) that says something along the lines of Looking for a Silverado? Have you Seen the F-150?

That’s all fine and good, but where are you landing them? Almost every ad I’ve seen lands people right on the SRP page. That’s a HUGE missed opportunity because you really aren’t convincing them why they should take a closer look at the F-150.

Here is a better way to do it. Create an ad that says something like Silverado Vs. F-150. Who Will Come Out On Top? Then, instead of landing them on an SRP that lists all the F-150’s you have in stock, land them on a comparison page. That’s right, a landing page that compares the F-150 to the Silverado. And if you are a Ford dealership you are going to want to highlight where the F-150 is better than the Silverado and vice-versa.

Of course, that landing page will have links to inventory and to your F-150 model page. Are you creating walk-around videos… you should be! Why? Because the data shows that’s what people are looking for.

The whole idea behind what I’m talking about here is to move people down the funnel, from awareness and interest to shop and buy. People are moving down that funnel anyway, most of the time they aren’t on your website, rather they are everywhere trying to find the information they need to make a well informed decision. Is your website informing them? Probably not.

24 Touch Points – 19 are Digital

Google released a study they did, in conjunction with Millward Brown, late last year that focused on the automotive path to purchase. The study involved both surveys and clickstream analysis of actual car shoppers. They found some really good data, data that you should be using in your marketing efforts. If not, give us a call and we can do it for you (sorry for the shameless plug).

While there were some eye openers, the idea that 80% of purchasers said that their minds were already made up when heading to the dealership, should give you something to think about. Think about, when somebody walks into a dealership, submits a form lead or gives you a call, odds are they already have made up their minds. They know what they want to buy, who they want to buy it from and about what they are going to pay.

Google says there are an average of 24 different touchpoints in the automotive path to purchase. 19 of which are digital. How many of those 19 can be done on your dealership’s website? The answer is…. drum roll please… not enough! That’s why it’s important to have content/landing pages for every level of the buying funnel. It makes no sense whatsoever for a dealerships website not to have comparison pages, best of pages, category pages, specials pages, etc…

Below is a list of the touchpoints that Google says people use when shopping for a car. They are in no particular order.

  • Searched on Google
  • Visited an OEM website
  • Looked at photos
  • Browsed newspaper ads
  • Watched video on Youtube
  • Loan Calculator
  • Saw a TV ad
  • Read professional reviews
  • Visited dealership website
  • Requested a quote online
  • Visited newspaper site
  • Filled out a form
  • Used mobile on lot
  • Test drove a vehicle
  • Visited a dealership
  • Read consumer reviews
  • Used model comparison tool
  • Clicked display ad
  • Located a dealer from mobile
  • Search dealer inventory on tier 2
  • Built-and-priced on OEM website
  • Searched on mobile
  • Watched video ad
  • Influenced by online ad
  • Visited a brands social page
  • Inquired family, friends and colleagues

Takeaway – Who says you can’t be all things to all people? Take a close look at your dealerships website and ask yourself if it has everything somebody would need to make a decision to buy from you. If not, fix it. Yes, you have a ton of inventory. That’s great, you are now focusing on the bottom two sections of the funnel. What about all those other people in the top 3? Don’t you think you could sell more cars if your website was as much a research destination as it is an inventory destination?

4 Brands Are Considered

There are so many options today and not all choices are easy. 63% of people enter the market not entirely sure on a model. They are considering an average of 4 different brands, in 2013 they were considering 3. What does that mean? It means more research is being done online. In fact, people are spending 16.75 hours researching a car today when in 2014 it was 15.5 and 13.75 in 2013. Notice a trend?

Not only are people spending more hours researching online they are doing it in a shorter overall time frame with 89% of people being in the market to buy a car for 3 months or less.

Takeaway- Time is finite. We don’t have all the time in the world to bounce around the internet trying to find out what we want to buy. So, make it easy. Since shoppers are considering 4 brands and while I understand that some of the touchpoints listed above can’t be done by a dealership, try to get in as many as you can. When you do, think about the next logical step in the funnel.

For instance, when creating a comparison page (interest phase) make it easy for them to find other comparisons. Using the example above, if you’re a Ford dealership and you create a comparison page for the F-150 Vs. Silverado then put a link to the F-150 Vs. RAM, F-150 Vs Titan, etc… Also, link to the F-150 model page (consideration phase) that has all the information they need to make an educated decision. From there link to inventory (buying) and specials (shopping phase) pages. See what that does? It walks them down the funnel and into your open arms. Give them their time back and they will give you their money.

Visiting 1-2 Dealerships and Test Driving 1 Vehicle

Say what! Yeah, 56% of automotive shoppers are test driving just one vehicle with the vast majority only visiting 1 to 2 dealerships. By the way, that was 5 dealership visits in 2005. Again, 80% of purchasers said that their minds were already made up when heading to the dealership. The internet is the new showroom, how are you adjusting your marketing efforts to better take advantage of that fact?

If you want to ensure that the virtual showroom experience is strong on your website then consider 3 types of videos:

  • Vehicle test drives
  • Highlights of vehicle features/options
  • Walk-around of interior and exterior.

By the way, Google said that these are the top video’s being consumed by automotive purchasers. Just makes sense that you offer them, doesn’t it? In the past year automotive video watch time has increase 220%... yeah, I know!

Takeaway- Video content is great content. If you’re not providing walk-around videos on your website then you are really missing out! Think about creating some sort of contest where the salesperson with the best walk-around gets their video on your website. If done right, the salesperson will be able to generate leads just from the video! Not to mention you’re continually moving people down the buying funnel. This is just another way to ensure that your dealership is part of the 1-2 shoppers are visiting.

What about pre-roll advertising? Since buyers ARE considering the three types of videos mentioned previously what about targeting those types of videos with pre-roll ads of your own? Hmmmm.

How Does All This Change the Way You Market?

How does it not? By knowing and understanding how all of this data can be used to create the perfect shopping experience on your dealerships website you are in a much better position to be present when shoppers are researching.

That’s the whole idea, being present. Inbound marketing is defined by Wikipedia as

… marketing activities that bring visitors in, rather than marketers having to go out to get prospects' attention. Inbound marketing earns the attention of customers, makes the company easy to be found, and draws customers to the website by producing interesting content.

Doesn’t that perfectly define what it is I’ve explained here? Instead of advertising with the knowledge that only a certain percent of the people you reach are in the market, why not advertise in a such a way that you are already in the places that car shoppers are looking? That way you know that nearly everybody that lands on one of your landing pages will be making a purchase within 90 days.

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There are 2 Comments

  1. Posted by Joe Reply

    David, you really break it down into Laman terms…. You make lights come on even outside of the car industry. Your funneling your customers really would work. Your giving the answers. With out the old for full sales techniques used along time ago.. Your still in contoll, it’s just in a manor that more friendly. Such a painless, way to win your customer over….. Enjoy reading that…

    • Posted by David Johnson Reply

      Thank you for the comment, Joe. The best funneling strategies take into account the way people shop/buy and then helps guide them toward their own ultimate goal. It’s all about greasing the slide, so to speak.

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