‘Consumer-First’ Digital Marketing Key to Winning Buyers

LAS VEGAS –Digital marketers focusing solely on shoppers close to car-buying decisions are missing significant opportunities to reach new customers, says Lindsay Eckert, vice president of marketing and strategy at Cars.com.

The key to enticing more shoppers to choose your brand and dealership is “consumer-first marketing,” Eckert tells attendees at the recent Digital Dealer conference. That means crafting digital marketing messages to resonate with shoppers at their specific stage of the decision-making process. She says most marketers believe they do so but lose sight of shoppers’ needs, mentalities and desires.

“We need to give shoppers the right information to help them make decisions. And when shoppers are at the end of the purchase funnel, ready to take action, their minds are mostly made up,” she says. “And if your (brand and dealership) are not on their minds, it’s too late.”

Cars.com data shows 50% of shoppers are ready to buy within 30 days. Only 27% of those shoppers have decided on their preferred makes and models. That leaves 73% undecided on make or model. The data underscores the different mindsets of both groups of shoppers.

Eckert says those closer to buying have homed in on specific features and amenities they want, and they compare the offerings within a small set of models. Successful marketing messages to these shoppers feature sales and deals, key competitive features of models, warranties and service perks.

That contrasts with those in the early stages of car shopping – those planning to buy within the next three months – who are undecided about everything from brand to body style and features. Those shoppers respond positively to messages that detail how a brand suits their lifestyles. Frequent video messaging and social feeds are among the best ways to ensure a message resonates with this group.

Eckert notes brand loyalty is at a six-year low. Market conditions, including inventory shortages, have led 42% of surveyed shoppers to consider brands and models they wouldn’t usually contemplate.

As marketers develop their digital plans, Eckert suggests it’s wise to remember what factors resonate most strongly with shoppers. Survey respondents list those as ­follows:

  • 64%, price.
  • 58%, safety.
  • 57%, comfort.
  • 55%, size.
  • 55%, fuel/energy efficiency.

But it’s also wise to use marketing to broaden appeal to shoppers. That might include showing how a dealership or inventory differs from others. One California dealer had a major influx of shoppers when their marketing highlighted top-rated service. Other dealerships align their stores with community themes and causes, call out competitors’ downsides and use various media to relay their messages.

“As the shopper gathers more information, they slowly narrow their consideration set,” Eckert says. “And you want to ensure your message shows shoppers why you should stay in consideration.”


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