Digital Insight About the Car-Buying Process

By Jacob Acker
August 23, 2017

Sitting at the conference room table, I had an epiphany about the car-buying process. My initial thought – a consumer shows interest in a car and searches new/used dealerships, Craigslist, third-party shops, etc., and eventually purchases. What I failed to remember were all of the self-induced thoughts and actions that occur during the process – or rather, micro-moments (see video below). Of course, Google has epitomized this process; consequently, I believe it’s best to use it to your own advantage. Take a look:

Working with automotive clients, I’ve discovered that the average consumer car-buying process can range anywhere from one to six months.

Effective marketers value day trading attention – something I’ve learned from one of my idols, Mr. Gary Vaynerchuk. Through and through, it’s a skill that involves always watching, always playing, and always looking for the next opportunity to understand what people are doing with their time – specifically during the car-buying process.

Google employee, David Mogenson, mentions that there are five specific auto-shopping moments that matter most (see them below, and more thoroughly explained at The 5 Auto Shopping Moments Every Brand Must Own).

  1. Which-car-is-best moments
  2. Is-it-right-for-me moments
  3. Can-I-afford-it moments
  4. Where-should-I-buy-it moments
  5. Am-I-getting-a-deal moments

Meet Sonya

Sonya

Sonya is a 25-year-old bachelorette who resides in Chicago. She’s just recently landed a new job that’s allowed for some extra spending. During her search for a new car, she drove a hand-me-down mid-sized SUV that burned through fuel and was much too large for her in the big city.

How Sonya Purchased Her Vehicle

Her two-month journey and multiple online searches to find a new car were very important. But I’d like to share a few hypothetical situations about Sonya, and her experience of purchasing a new vehicle after using Google, Facebook, and Craigslist. Mostly, I’m providing insight about her specific car-buying process.

SearchesOver her two month period, she had a total of 50 searches on Google, 25 searches on Facebook, and 20 searches on Craigslist.

Google Logo

Google interactions (searches) are highly important to help Sonya understand what she wanted in a car. She knew that size and mileage were important to her, but obviously needed to do some research about what best suited her needs. She primarily searched through Google’s search network, YouTube, dealership websites, and review websites to learn more. She searched 50 different times trying to find a new vehicle. Through those searches, she found 30 Google searches, 10 YouTube pages, went to five dealership sites, and five review sites. All in all, she found many more searches than she did YouTube pages, dealership sites, and review sites.

Sonya searched 30 different times, providing auto marketers many chances to make an impression. In order to make an impact, it’s important to understand when was she searching online, where did she go, how did she get there, and what’s most important to her.

During her search process, she ran through the 5 Auto Shopping Moments with no understanding of them. Take a look:

  1. She used searches like: “best sedan” and “best car for single woman with a dog” to understand which car is best for her.
  2. She knew that viewing different brands with the same type of vehicle would help her figure out if it was right for her – so, she ran searches like: “how many seats in Brand F model” and “compare Brand F models”.
  3. She ran through pricing options by using searches like: “best car lease deals” and “Brand F price”.
  4. She ran through searches like: “car buying” and “best car dealerships in Chicago” to figure out where to buy.
  5. Lastly, she used searches like: “what’s a good lease money factor” and “what do you pay for Brand G make/model lease”.

Facebook Logo

Since the later 2000s, Facebook has had control of a large majority of the United States population. According to Statista, “As of January 2017, the total Facebook audience in the United States amounted to 214 million users.”

Facebook Users - January 2017

With over 325 million people in the United States, Facebook has access to nearly 65% of the U.S. population. With that being said, there are countless markets to sell and advertise in.

Sell

Director of Product Management at Facebook, Mary Ku, explains the Facebook Marketplace experience as: the convenient place to discover products near you, to find products you’re most interested in, and to find offers that you cannot pass. This feature makes the consumer car-buying process easy, especially for millennials and upcoming Generation Z individuals.

According to Engadget, “Marketplace’s biggest tweaks make it easier to post photos of your own salable items and sift through what’s available to buy near you. Apparently, diving into individual categories now takes one tap instead of two, for example.” One of the best attributes to Marketplace is that it’s based on location. This means that when people are near your product, they will see that it’s available to purchase. With a copious amount of people on Facebook, it’s a great feature to have.

Facebook Marketplace

Facebook’s Marketplace seems to geared toward individuals selling used cars, but Sonya still believes that it’s a great option to help find what she’s looking for. Overall, the Marketplace provides cheaper options than dealerships can. However, you won’t get the service that a dealership offers.

For the millennial-aged Sonya, it’s a great fit because 25 of her searches came from Marketplace. She primarily focused within the western-suburban area of Chicago because that’s where she lives. She built a 25-mile radius around her home to track what vehicles may be important to her.

Advertise

Facebook’s most strategic approach is Advertising. Facebook has changed over the years – namely referring to the pay-to-play theory. As you should know, posting content for your pages current audience to see does not gain the attention it once used to. Facebook’s reach is large; however, the best way to reach a target audience is to advertise. Overall, advertising on Facebook makes it easy to find the right people, capture their attention, and get results.

Based on your goals, there are a three different marketing objectives to choose from: Awareness, Consideration, and Conversion.

In understanding how to sell more cars, I would first recommend using a Brand Awareness campaign. It will allow individuals to become familiar with your location. The brand awareness campaign is used to reach a local audience within a set geographic location. The ads will only be served to people specifically in that area. When you’ve hit individuals in a certain area, it’s a good practice to then create another ad group, and target certain individuals based on their interests. This allows you to be more specific and gain more potential buyers. A Facebook Success Story for this strategy would be Castle Chevrolet in Villa Park, Illinois (a western suburb of Chicago).

Their Story: Castle Chevrolet and Castle Buick GMC have been putting their customers first for the past 30 years. Voted the number one internet sales team in Illinois, the Castle Auto Group rises above local competitors by offering The Castle Difference, a service program that provides free oil changes and free tires for life.

Their Goal: For their 3-month campaign, they’d like to reach new prospective customers located in key Chicago suburban neighborhoods and convey why they should buy their next car from Castle dealerships.

Their Solution: Use Facebook’s local awareness ads to spread the word about their car dealerships and unique Castle Difference service program.

All in all, the ads highlighted the advantages of buying from Castle and the value delivered through The Castle Difference. As the story highlights, they had 2,212 unique dealership website visits, $0.98 cost per click, 23 vehicle sales attributed to the campaign, and 23X return on advertising spend.

My second suggestion would be creating Dynamic ads (see below). Facebook dynamic ads automatically promote products – in this case, vehicles – to people who have expressed interest on your website, in your app, or elsewhere on the internet. A perfect Facebook Success Story for this situation would be DARCARS Automotive Group in Maryland.

DARCARS Automotive Group

Their Story: Emphasizing service and community, DARCARS sells one out of every 600 new cars sold in the US.

Their Goal: The DARCARS team wanted to increase online views of vehicle detail pages (VDPs) for inventory vehicles at key locations, while keeping its costs per click low, with the goal of increasing sales and maximizing its return on ad spend.

Their Solution: They turned to Dealer.com, its website, and advertising provider. Dealer.com integrated with Facebook’s Marketing application programming interface (API) to easily launch Facebook’s new dynamic ads on a massive scale.

They earned a 92% lower cost per vehicle detail page view, 66% lower cost per click, and over 45,000 vehicle detail page views.

As Sonya continually searched Facebook’s Marketplace, she was scrolling through Facebook and was served Castle Chevrolet’s awareness ad. After reading more about the service program, Sonya contacted Castle Chevrolet. Without the help of the Facebook ad campaign, she may have never found Castle. It’s extremely important to understand how much Facebook can influence a consumer’s purchase decision, even though it totally depends on where the customer’s at in the buying process. For Sonya, at first, she was in the awareness stage when she was served the ad. As a result, she quickly moved to the  decision stage of the funnel after discovering how great The Castle Difference service program. Remember, it’s not only about what features you have, it’s about what those features do to make your customer happy – ultimately, the benefit.

Sales Funnel

If Sonya had been at the interest stage to begin with, it would be a good approach to serve her dynamic ads because she was most likely already searching dealership websites. Dynamic ads are perfect for displaying products on Facebook that consumers, like Sonya, had already been interested in. They also provide another consumer touch-point as well as a clear call-to-action.

Craigslist Logo

Since 1995, Craigslist has maintained a large online presence for individuals to sell their stuff. It’s easy to use and extremely helpful when searching for specific items. There are a few tips and secrets to selling anything on Craigslist, but very specific instructions when selling vehicles.

As we all know, vehicles are expensive. So, when consumers search cars on Craigslist, they are extremely cautious about the legitimacy of the sale, the seller, and the situation.

If consumers, like Sonya, are searching for cars on Craigslist, they are obviously interested in purchasing a car once they find what’s right for them. The points below highlight important aspects of marketing on Craigslist:

  • Creative Titles

It’s extremely important to make your titles short and to the point; however, they need to have a catch. When someone scrolls past your title, they want to be entertained. In the buying process, consumers are compelled by an interesting headline – preferably one that’s targeted to them. For example, “Life Will Get Better.” It’s geared toward how you want the buyer to feel after buying the car.

  • Simplicity

When the listing is clean and straightforward, there’s a better chance that a consumer will be interested and/or purchase. Also, simplicity provides clarity – only helping the consumer understand what they’re getting themselves into.

  • Remove Older Ads

If you’ve recently sold/attempted to sell a vehicle, make sure that the listing gets taken down once the vehicle is sold. Consumers question the legitimacy of a listing based on a number of factors – so, you’re only adding more value by removing anything that’s not relevant.

  • Results

Craigslist allows you to track which listings are getting you more clicks. Craigslist Ad Tracker may be the most viable option for tracking analytical data.

  • Last, but not least, test which listings/ads are working better for you and go from there. It’s very closely related to any online campaign, but it’s proven to work.

Craigslist offers many opportunities for vehicle sales. Very closely related to Facebook’s Marketplace, it primarily focuses on used vehicles, but it does not limit to only used.

A consumer like Sonya would need to be interested in a used or a lower-priced car to get the best use out of Craigslist. Her 20 searches are enough to help her understand which vehicle she may be interested in – but, they also provide a lot of information about the specific vehicles she is searching for. Unique search options allow Craigslist advertisers to gain more information about users.