AutoTrader Says Industry Must Connect Digital Dots

Shopper traffic has been shifting online for years, but at Wednesday's NADA /J.D. Power-sponsored Automotive Forum, Jim Franchi, division president of media at Atlanta-based AutoTrader.com, drew a roadmap for how automakers and dealers can stay relevant as consumers move back and forth between on and offline media. 

He spotlighted what he identified as five realities influencing auto shopper behavior (and probably not just for automobiles):

- When consumers go online they are overwhelmed and undecided. Only 29% know which body style they want, only 11% which features. Only 31% know the exact model. "They are not only cross-shopping other cars, they are searching adjoining car segments.” If they are searching a mid-size car, they are also likely looking at compacts and the entry-luxury area. “So there's a huge opportunity for marketers to influence customers.”  

- Dealer row is digital. Franchi said that three years ago the average consumer spent 17.5 hours total with 10.75 of it offline. "Our new data shows offline time has been cut in half to 3.5 hours offline, while they are spending almost 12 hours online. That's 80% of the process now being spent online." He says dealers are searching almost nine different sites on average — 46% of it at third-party sites. And when they are in the real world they are visiting just 2.5 dealerships on average. "Ten years ago, it was 10 dealerships. As marketers, we must have an awesome online experience because there are lots of cases where dealers are doing a great job but the OEM's online work is not great; they lose customers." 

- If automakers aren't marketing on mobile, they’re losing sales because 32% of shoppers are on multiple screens, "And we expect that will jump to 52% by 2017," he said. "Consumers are expecting a consistent experience and up-to-date data across all screens." And AutoTrader, citing IHS survey data, says 68% of shoppers say a negative mobile experiences has a negative effect on their brand perceptions  

- The 85 million people born between 1980 and 2000 — Millennials — are accelerating change, said Franchi, noting that by 2020 they will buy 40% of all cars sold. "They want to learn about products, and they want to be hands-on." He notes that telematics and infotainment technology drives their interest so that should be a focus. "We have to really make sure we are marketing to them in the right way. For example, 66% of them are more likely to use mobile devices to shop than the rest of the audience and 31% rely on others' opinions. They will look at brand reputation, what other consumers are saying about the dealer sales and service experience."

- Advertising messages have to be consistent across the national, regional, and dealer-level marketing tiers. "If you are doing consistent multi-tier marketing, 50% of consumers will be more likely to do further research into your products. If they are seeing only one tier of consistent ads they will move on." Franchi said that AutoTrader findings suggest that if consumers see consistent marketing communications between tier one and tier two they will be 32% more likely to contact a dealer. If that consistency is down through tier three they will be 77% more likely to contact that brand's dealer. "It has to be comprehensive, efficient, consistent, inclusive and connected. That's half the battle."

He said marketers and dealers must embrace transparency, by, for example, using third-party pricing as a point of comparison because consumers aren't looking for the cheapest deal, they're looking for a fair deal. And product expertise at dealerships is essential because consumers come in armed with information and 37% of shoppers said expertise is the most important element in the dealer experience. Finally, dealers should shorten the time spent closing a sale.

"Car Shopping" photo from Shutterstock.

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