The consumer’s long road to buying a car

SMI agency ad spend data for the 2016/2017 financial year listed automotive brands as the third biggest contributor to overall ad spend, with the category accounting for $76 million over those 12 months.

The category was also listed as the second fastest growing, with spend increasing by 15 percent since the previous financial year.

All in all, that’s a big chunk of money spent trying to convince consumers to invest in a certain product. The question, however, is whether that money is being spent in the right places to effectively push consumers one way or the other.

This is something that News Works was trying to work out when it recently conducted a study into how media influences car buyers along the winding path to purchase.

For the study, News Works consulted 525 automotive buyers covering both new and used vehicles, endeavouring to find out which media channels had the most influence at different stages of the decision-making process.

According to the research, the path to purchase can broadly be segmented into four stages: recognising the need, researching options, forming a shortlist and making the purchase.

Each of these stages presents different challenges for brands looking to influence the final decision of the consumer and each necessitates a slightly different strategy.

Recognising the need       

According to the study, the most common reason consumers decide to buy a new vehicle is due to the desire to upgrade to a newer version or model. A distant second is the need to upgrade to a larger vehicle.

Even at this early stage of the process, one in five users say they already have a brand in mind.

It obviously pays to be that brand so early along the journey but, with 82 percent of consumers anticipating it will take more than three months before they purchase, marketers still have time to incorporate their brands into the mind of the consumer.

Researching options

Once consumers have settled on the decision to purchase a new car, they enter the research phase—and this is where media starts to play an important role.

Consumers will scour all the information they can on price, product specs and reviews to help guide them toward the right vehicle.

The leading source of information is the internet (59 percent), but this is closely followed by newspapers both in print and online (52 percent).

Given that news publications often have objective reviews written by trusted automotive experts, it comes as little surprise that these publications play an important role during this phase. Respected motor journalists are known for praising vehicles that stand out but similarly cutting down those that don’t meet the required specifications.

In fact, when it comes to any high priced good, trade journalists play an important role in guiding consumer choices. This is evident in Driven.co.nz reviews of the latest BMW or on the pages of any respected car publication. The opinions of these writers and journalists are trusted by those who make the final decision.

This trust in journalism was evident in the study, which showed that aside from recommendations from friends and family, newspapers and magazines rated as the most trusted sources of information for prospective buyers.     

Due to the influence of this information, 84 percent of consumers have at least one potential vehicle in mind.

Formalising the shortlist  

As consumers look to cut the list down to the final few, the decision is firstly driven by price and closely behind by brand reputation and previous brand experience.

Looking at this result, it comes as little surprise that car manufacturers continue to spend substantially on print and news media advertising. When it comes to developing a trusted brand, car manufacturers know that they need to go to the channels that consumers actually trust.     

In finalising the shortlist, the internet also plays an integral role, with 47 percent of consumers scouring the web for inspiration and motivation. Dealerships also start to play a more prominent role, with consumers visiting to finally test-drive the cars they’ve been eyeing.

Putting down the cash         

At this final stage of the process, the dealer becomes the most important source of information. The consumer is with the person face to face and this is always a major influence.

Despite being this far down the line, consumers still tend to rely on a quick internet search to ensure they’re securing the best possible deal—a clear warning to sales people not to embellish their pitch too elaborately. The connected consumer has a lie detector in their pocket.

Newspaper media in print and digital are used by almost a third of consumers at this stage in the car buying process and are a trusted source of relevant and timely information.   

What this shows is that the brands most effective at telling their stories through these channels will be in a good position to influence the customer’s business at the end of the day.   

The lesson here for media planners is not to stick to a set plan throughout the buying process but instead adjust it according to what works best at different stages.

When it comes to automotive purchases, the path to purchase is more of railway than a road, with the brand laying down tracks while the consumer moves along. If at any stage, the brand loses the consumer along the way, it invariably risks seeing that consumer on an entirely different set of tracks, travelling toward another destination.     

  • This article is brought to you as part of a content partnership with News Works

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