Monday, September 20, 2004

Targeting car buyers on the information superhighway

J. D. Powers has just released the results of a survey of more than 26,000 consumers who leased or bought a new vehicle in January or February 2004. Apparently nearly two thirds of all new car buyers in the US use the web as a resource, and half of all new car buyers use it to help them pick make and model, and find the right price to pay. As other industries are discovering, it is not just Gens X and Y that are using the web to make big-ticket buying decisions. Nearly half of all new car buyers over 60 years old used the web in their search for the right vehicle.

As more buyers are looking to the web for pre-purchase information, manufacturers are actually responding by providing sites that now go beyond the mere brochure-online of a year or two ago. So while six out of ten "online automotive customers" still start their new car search at third-party sites, four out of ten go right to the manufacturer's site, and this proportion is growing.

This is the beauty of integrated marketing, creating awareness and interest using conventional media, and pulling those potential customers to a tactical microsite or brand website for an immersive, comprehensive, salesman-free experience to turn that interest into desire.

A great example of targeted personalized marketing is Audi UK's latest promotion for the A3 Sportback. I received an invitation to view a movie online which shows Audi engineers discovering a link between the heritage of the Audi and the DNA of Godfrey Parkin! I was invited to send similar invitations to other people, who also got to watch their own personalized movie. This is a very creative twist on microsite viral marketing.

It's a pity that manufacturers are getting e-marketing right, but shy away from e-commerce. In most cases you still have to go to a dealer to place an order for a new car. And (in my limited experience) don't expect much in the way of online customer service after the sale is closed. Forsprung durch Technik is still about manufacturing engineers and marketing execs, and has not quite made its way to dealers or corporate finance people. But that will come with market pressure.

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