Car Marketers Ask 'Why?'

No one understands the nuances of consumer behavior quite as extensively as the automobile industry. Buying a car is the perfect expression of how complicated consumption can be, a mosh of need, practicality, desire, status seeking, and personal identity wrapped up in a single big-ticket buy. Kris Shaffer, executive vice president-director of integrated brands at Young & Rubicam Detroit, oversees brand planning and product positioning for Lincoln Mercury. As she tells Behavioral Insider, tracking clickstreams using typical online BT techniques is good for "intercepting" consumers. Actually influencing consumer behavior, however, requires the more evolved approach of exploring the motivations that inform action.

Behavioral Insider: How does behavioral research figure into profiling the automotive consumer?

Shaffer: Behavioral is one of the building blocks we use to profile our target customers.... So in terms of behavior we are looking at the market, or the consumers who are most likely to buy us, what they currently own, what they are likely to be trading in, how much time they spend as they are going through the shopping process, what else they are going to be looking at when they look at our product. We look at their habits and media usage and lifestyle behaviors. 

But it's really only one of the elements we use. Probably more important for us than behavior is understanding the motivation behind the behavior.

BI: How are you collecting that information and integrating into other data?

Shaffer: Our fundamental targeting is based on psychographics, or values and attitudes. Then to that segmentation we attach behaviors. So we understand people who, for example, are driven by individuality, [who] behave in a different way from consumers who are driven by achieving a dream in their lives.

BI: Do values inform different behaviors in the purchasing cycle?

Shaffer: Consumers who are driven by individuality and wanting to make a statement about themselves tend to be a more savvy and intelligent consumer. They tend to use more online behaviors. They tend to absorb media in more modern ways, so that they are multitasking, they are looking at and absorbing messages from a variety of channels, not just traditional ones. They tend to be more on the leading edge of emerging media and more receptive to guerilla and experiential marketing.

Consumers who want more to be part of the crowd and part of the fabric of America, so to speak, they are more likely to do things in a traditional manner. They look for cues from their neighbors and business associates and friends and members of their church for information and product credibility. They are not as likely to be impacted by really innovative marketing tactics, nor use the Internet to the extent the individualist consumers do.

BI: How many segments do you have for auto?

Shaffer: The segmentation we use today has roughly 12 different segments of consumers based on their values added to psychographics. And then each of those segments has a different behavioral profile. Values and attitudes tend to be the ingredient for motivation. One is motivated by values and attitudes.

BI: How does the behavioral layer inform the kind of campaigns that you construct for those different segments?

Shaffer: In a couple of different ways. It tells us, first of all, where to emphasize our media spend. It also tells us what sort of competitive messaging would be most relevant, because we know that behaviorally what else they are going to be looking at in comparison to our vehicles. And it also allows our direct marketing to understand timing. Certain segments have a long consumption lifetime before they purchase. Other segments have a much more flat timing. So the manner in which you speak to [specific segments] has to be either shortened or lengthened depending on what their likely behaviors are in terms of their shopping process.

BI: Does behavioral targeting and profiling get over-done in some areas of marketing?

Shaffer:  ... I would suggest that even online, yes, behavioral profiling is big, but until all the marketers that are doing that understand the whys behind it they can't impact the behavior--they only intercept it.

BI: Has all of the granular feedback we get from watching consumer shopping behavior interactively online given us a richer understanding of the auto buying cycle?

Shaffer: The first thing we've learned is that the shopping process is actually changing because the Internet as a tool enables the consumer to gather a lot more information and be armed with a lot more knowledge before they walk into a retail environment.

BI: Are there still holes in our understanding consumer behavior when it comes to considering autos? Is there a next stage here?

Shaffer: Understanding the behaviors is fairly deep and our understanding is fairly solid. Personally what I see as the next thing we really need to understand are media consumption behaviors. [Consumers] decide when they want the information and how they get the information, so we, as well as most of our competitors, are experimenting on things that aren't traditional advertising or information delivery. We're trying to grab consumers so they somehow become intrigued by our brand but make the choice for themselves that they will get the information. We have no idea if that's working or how that's working. Now we know we get X thousands of hits on a site, but we have not been able to connect what is the return on that investment.

BI: Have of these experiments shown promising returns yet?

Shaffer: Yes. We've had a couple of short-form initiatives that created a huge amount of consumer response and interactive behavior. Online or print enticements drive them to a site with short-form content that really has nothing to do with short term car buying. It's something that is more subtly brought to them by one of our brands.  And the interest in them and the behavior flows have been quite solid.