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If automotive marketers want to target the right car buying audience then they need to understand them better. As technology evolves and preferences shift, it’s critical that automotive marketers and dealers have the latest data to help them connect with the right audience at every touchpoint in their car buying journey. To help them stay ahead, the automotive digital marketing experts at LOCALiQ AUTOMOTIVE conducted the Automotive Consumer Journey Study that explored the latest digital tools and who is using them to research, discover and ultimately purchase a vehicle.    

Survey Respondent Demographics 

The LOCALiQ AUTOMOTIVE Consumer Journey Study polled 500 consumers who purchased a car in the prior two years and conducted car buying research online. Respondents were separated by age, gender and geographic location. The majority of respondents were looking for a new or used vehicle (84 percent), with less than 15 percent looking for an electric or luxury vehicle. Here is what we found.    

Key Stat #1: Timing is Critical 

Most people (51 percent) began their car search one to three months before purchase, indicating an active window in the automotive consumer online journey. Automotive marketers can leverage this by ensuring baseline dealership marketing includes establishing an online presence, augmented by ad campaigns and marketing tactics that drive awareness to targeted in-market customers who are still open to brands.   

Key Stat #2: Auto Buying Begins With Search Engines  

When beginning the car buying online research process, search engines were the most popular starting location overall, with 85 percent of respondents using sites like Google to kick off their car-buying journey. Search engines were followed by general auto sites like (61 percent) and manufacturer’s website like (32 percent). Automotive marketers need to be on top of search engine marketing to reach auto shoppers during a key research stage.   

Key Stat #3: Manufacturer Websites are a Go-To for Older Consumers 

Older consumers were less likely to begin their research on search engines (19 percent) compared to other age groups. Instead, this group was more likely to start their searches on the manufacturer’s website, likely indicating a preference for a particular brand.   

Key Stat #4: In-Person Research is Still Important to Consumers 

While the most popular starting point was search engines, the most preferred method of research was visiting a dealership in-person. This is reinforced by 70 percent of people saying they would need to see the car in-person before purchasing, suggesting research online is ultimately supplementary to in-person research. Automotive marketers can leverage audience targeting to go after specific brand intenders.   

Key Stat #5: Reviews are Everything to Younger Car Buyers 

Reading dealership reviews online resonates more strongly with younger consumers than older consumers, with those under 34 three-times more likely to use dealership reviews as part of their research process, compared to those 55+. A comprehensive local listings and review management strategy is key, so automotive marketers need to make time to stay on top of these.   

Key Stat #6: Social Media Remains a Major Influence 

The Auto Buyer’s Journey now includes social media! Facebook was the most preferred social media research method (70 percent), with approximately half of respondents reporting they have used Facebook Marketplace when car searching (47 percent). Automotive marketers now have a dynamic creative option for social ads on Facebook. Considering how often an auto shopper is going to bounce back and forth from search engines to dealership websites to Facebook, using this option is a smart way to connect to in-market buyers with a message relevant to their recent search.   

Key Stat #7: Established Third-Party Resources Are Most Trusted 

While Facebook and other social media sites are widely used for research and reviews, when it comes to trustworthiness for vehicle reviews, established third parties such as Consumer Reports topped social media sources (26 percent).    

Key Stat #8: Vehicle Affordability Trumps Brand Reputation 

Vehicle reliability and affordability (92 percent) were the most important car attribute among all consumers, the reputation of the car brand and dealership followed closely behind (87 percent). Vehicle options and car connectedness ranked the lowest in car attribute importance (53 percent). Consider this: branded content can make your dealership front and center when it comes to providing recommendations on how to choose vehicles that are reliable, affordable and lifestyle compatible.   

Automotive marketing can be complex in today’s digital age – requiring the right balance of proven marketing expertise and smart optimization tools. The right data, combined with the right digital marketing partner can help savvy automotive marketers more effectively connect with customers online and off. 


Contact us to learn more about how we can get your dealership in front of auto shoppers at the right moments across the automotive consumer journey. 


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