The auto buyer’s journey is made up of a lot of small moments. These moments range from watching a six-second car ad on YouTube to asking a dealership a question via live chat to making a final price comparison on a mobile device while visiting a dealership’s lot

Let’s talk about user engagement, or ways that your dealership can engage prospects at every stage of the car buyer’s journey. To help us out, we’ll use a very helpful report by Google that outlines five different types of moments that come up throughout the car buyer’s journey, and talk about digital marketing strategies that are well suited for each stage. From there, we’ll touch on why data – consumer insights, user engagement metrics, analytics, and so on – are so important to making sure your user engagement strategy is on target. 

Why is user engagement important? To understand what users do, let’s explore car buying moments. 

Which-car-is-best moments – At this stage in the car buyer’s journey the consumer is trying to assess overall quality. “Best” will obviously vary from person to person. The best car for John Wick and the best car for the dad in Modern Family should look very different, but both fictional buyers would try to do the same thing – identify the highest quality car or cars available. 

Only a handful of buyers qualify as car experts, and virtually no buyer will have the cognitive and informational resources to choose an objective best car out of thousands of possible vehicle models.  So what do folks at the which-car-is-best stage do? They hit up sources they consider reliable. This can mean asking a friend, reading reviews on third-party websites, or picking up a copy of Consumer Reports. More and more buyers are turning to video to figure out which car is best, and that’s why video is so important to user engagement. 

Consumers watched over three million hours of car review videos in the first nine months of 2015, and sixty-nine percent of people who used YouTube to research cars report being influenced by it. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense to connect with car buyers via YouTube. You can do this by investing in YouTube ads that will play in front of, say, John Wick’s search for “best car to seek revenge in.” You can also take the plunge into video branded content and make your dealership a car buyer’s resource in its own right. 

A good video strategy isn’t necessarily confined to YouTube. Another approach is to run video display ads on websites your customers trust, such as their local newspaper site. Not all car ads can be considered informative in the sense a review is, but every car ad that hits on a feature (e.g. speed, fuel efficiency, suitability for this or that lifestyle) is making a claim that their car is best in a certain way. If you’re pairing this claim with a trustworthy source, you’re engaging auto shoppers in the which-car-is-best stage of the customer journey. 

Is-it-right-for-me moments – The best car might be too expensive, not have enough seats, or have the wrong interior for the car shopper’s Saint Bernard. This brings the consumer to a second question – is this car right for me? 

At these moments, the car buyer is focused on specific questions like dimensions and fuel efficiency.  Video remains useful, with vehicle walkthroughs, virtual test drives, and content focused on features and options being more significant than other types of videos. Many car buyers search for still images during these moments, usually from a mobile device. OEM websites are also valuable for is-it-right-for-me moments, as these sites offer model specs, build-your-own-vehicle configurators, and so on. 

Since car buyers are still using video at this stage, it makes sense to keep up with your video and display ad campaigns to stay top of mind. The customer should be more focused on car makes and models now, which means search marketing campaigns and website SEO are both wise investments. Similarly, social ads will be valuable as the customer zeroes in on specific brands. 

Can-I-afford-it moments – Here the car buyer’s journey enters the realm of MSRP, list prices, trade-in values, and so on. Seasonality plays a role – Google reports a spike in “cars for sale under [x amount]” search during tax return season and increased interest in cars during the summer months. 

For these moments it makes sense to promote affordability across channels like email, social media, search marketing, video, print, etc. You can also take advantages of certain times of year, like tax season or summer. 

Where-should-I-buy-it moments – For dealerships, these moments are huge. Google breaks this down into four elements: where, what, when, and which. “Where” refers to geographic location, specifically which dealerships are close enough to conveniently visit. “What” refers to whether a dealership has a specific vehicle or make in their inventory. “When” primarily refers to operating hours. “Which” refers to the dealership’s reputation and ability to offer a positive customer experience. 

A fundamental way to take control of these moments is to make sure your online information is accurate, complete, and up to date. A good listing management solution can be invaluable for this. Another tool that many dealerships use is live chat. Live chat can be used to answer where, what, and when questions, and can greatly enhance the car buying experience as a whole, helping you out with which. 

More and more car buyers, especially younger ones, factor online reviews into their decision making. Listing management is useful because it helps you keep tabs on all the places your dealership is being reviewed (the research suggests that responding to negative reviews in the right way is a winning strategy for most businesses).  Social media management solutions like brand listening are valuable for similar reasons. 

Am-I-getting-a-deal moments – These are the moments when the car buyer is on your lot and, out of nowhere, whips out his mobile device to make sure the price is right on that BMW. Around 50% of car buyers use their smartphones while visiting car dealerships. This is what many, if not most, of them are trying to figure out. 

The best overall strategy for these moments is making sure that your customer knows he or she is getting a fair shake, better yet a fantastic deal, from your lot.  One practical step is making sure that your website is optimized for SEO and is an easy place to make price comparisons. Another, somewhat more aggressive, approach is setting up a geofence around a competitor’s dealership. When customers walk on their lot, they get an ad about yours via their mobile device. You can also set up a geofence around neutral territory that your prospects frequent, like a nearby restaurant or shopping area. 

Make sure your user engagement strategy is, well, engaging – Every approach we mentioned is a proven way to sell cars, but it can be hard to know where to focus your attention. Differences in your local market can complicate things as well – the car buyer’s journey may unfold differently for different people in different places.  

Your best friends in this respect are data insights, web tracking, and data analytics. Data insights give you a sense of what your local market is all about. Web tracking lets you know where your leads are coming from. Data analytics highlight hidden opportunities.  

Using these tools to engage your user at the right moment in the car buyer’s journey is a blueprint for success. 


Contact us to find out more about our complete automotive marketing solutions. 


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