Every car buyer is on a customer journey. It begins with initial interest in buying a new or used car and ends with a final purchase decision. While no two customers are identical, if you look at enough car buying journeys you can see regularly occurring features. For you, these features are opportunities to make your next sale. 

Let’s talk about three features of the car buyer’s journey: the initial research stage, how different age groups shop for cars, and the dealership visit stage of the journey. We’ll discuss the significance of each and propose a few takeaways, or basic strategies, to help you target and connect with customers at these points in the car shopping process. 


Why You Should Get Started Early 

For most car buyers (51%), the process begins one to three months before purchase, typically in the form of online research. The specifics may vary depending on who they are, but most customers are spending a longish window of time searching, watching videos, looking at pictures, and reading about their next car

Key Takeaways: 
Have an engaging presence.
 Having an attractive, simple-to-navigate website is essential because, odds are, your next customer will be clicking around on it over this one- to three-month window. Social media marketing, PPC marketing and YouTube ads can also be valuable ways to connect during the research stage. The internet has made searching for information quick and easy, and if you show up in the places car buyers are looking you are setting yourself up as a future resource. 

Use this time window to shape preferences. Our research indicates that 92% of customers rate affordability and reliability as an important part of choosing a car, and 87% rate brand and dealership reputation as critical. If you can target in-market car buyers who are still open to different brands during this window, you have a reasonable chance of getting them on the lot. Blog posts, email marketing, and other forms of content can be excellent tools to signal affordability, reliability, dealer reputation, and other features that matter to your customer. 

Speak to the smart consumer. During the passive research stage your customer is probably viewing multiple online sources and using what he or she finds to discover preferences, visualize scenarios, and explore buying opportunities. You can leverage this inclination with enhanced local listings that give the customer a wealth of information about their automobile(s) of choice, and by staying on top of review management.


The Generation Gap: Differences Between Age Cohorts in the Customer Journey 

Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, Gen Z. Depeche Mode probably got it right when they released the hit song “People Are People,” but our research indicates several important age-based differences in the automobile shopper’s journey. In a nutshell, the two younger groups of consumers resemble each other fairly closely, whereas older buyers take a different route when they’re shopping for their next car. 

55 years and older: 
Let’s start with the elder cohort. Car buyers who are 55 years older usually start their customer journey on manufacturer websites, possibly indicating a stable brand preference. They also still rely on the publication Consumer Reports, with a full 47% citing it as the most trustworthy source to learn about vehicles. Online dealership reviews are not particularly important to this cohort, with only 16% considering it a preferred method of research. 

54 to 35 years / 34 to 18 years: 
The middle-aged and young cohorts share several buying characteristics. Neither is particularly reliant on Consumer Reports; but they do visit third-party websites like Kelly Blue Book and Cars.com. Both younger cohorts pay more attention to online dealership reviews than older shoppers. In fact, dealership reviews become more important the younger the buyer gets, with 42% of 18- to 34-year olds citing reading reviews as a preferred method of research. These two cohorts are also far more likely to start their journey on a search engine, usually Google.  

Key Takeaways: 
Manage your reviews. While there has been a lot of hand wringing about younger car buyers in recent years, this cohort represent the future of your business.  They’re making judgments based on customer reviews, and a smart dealership understands this. 

Optimize for SEO. If step one is a Google search for most car buyers, then it only makes sense for you to make sure you show up as strongly as possible. 

Know where your customers are getting their information. Nearly half of 55+ year olds are getting their information from a specific magazine. If this is your target audience, you would do well to keep close tabs on Consumer Reports. In the general sense, knowing what media sources your customers are engaging is a wise move. 


They’re Still Going to Show Up at Your Door 

Clicking around online is a great first research step, but every age group and gender rates dealership visits as the preferred method of making their final purchase. Chances are you know the basics here –a pleasant environment, friendly salespeople – but there are ways to use audience targeting techniques to your advantage as well.  

Key Takeaways: 
Host and sponsor informed events. Before you plan your next cocktail hour or sponsor your next softball tournament, explore your demographics and ask yourself if it is attracting the customer type that makes sense for your business. Local markets are funny, you don’t notice them changing from day to day but then you wake up one morning and everything is different. If you can use data to position your dealership up as a place where the car buyer “fits in,” the inevitable site visit should be better for both sides. 

Stay connected with email. You may not make the sale on the first try, but research has shown that customers respond to targeted, relevant email messaging. If you get them on your list you can continue to engage them when they’re off the lot. The best approach is to send targeted emails based on customer profile, rather than send one-size-fits-all messaging.  

Invest in lead management. Lead management solutions can be a real lifesaver for a busy dealership. They help you keep track of incoming phone calls and emails; and you can even do things like automate responses. Why let a valuable relationship fall through the cracks. 


Are You Playing an Active Role in Your Customer’s Journey? 

If not, LOCALiQ AUTOMOTIVE can help. We’ve been studying how customers go from initial discovery to final purchase for years now, and we have the end-to-end solutions to help you connect at every stage in the process. 


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