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Developing a Digital Strategy for an Automobile Brand

19 August 2016
Vintage-Classic-Car-Plate | Developing a Digital Strategy for an Automobile Brand | Neon

Brands need to actively connect with their consumers both online and offline, communicating with them throughout every stage of the buying cycle. Digital disruption and connected devices have dramatically changed the way that prospective buyers research products. The automobile consumer journey is considerably more complex than many other sectors, as decision making is influenced by extensive online research and a multitude of dealerships.

The consumer has many touchpoints through the consideration process, prior to actually choosing the brand and model. A vast 85% – 95% of purchasers primarily conduct online research. With this in mind, it is increasingly important that automobile brands ensure an adaptable and reactive digital strategy is firmly in place.

Micro Moments

Successful marketers and brands must optimise every touchpoint, so that prospective buyers remain engaged at every stage of the research process. With smartphones indispensable to modern day consumers, there have been radical changes in consumer research behaviour.

Micro moments occur when people engage with a device to act on a need to learn something, do something, discover something, watch something or in this instance, buy something. They are timely and intent-rich moments, when decisions are made and preferences shaped. There miro moments are pivotal for consumers and brands. The “I want to know moments”, “I want to go moments”, “I want to buy moments” are central to product research and consequently purchases. Marketers and brands should seek to capitalise these moments to attract future customers and improve sale conversions.

Customer Journey

The customer research journey is disconnected and fragmented, made up of a multitude of research moments from a variety of devices, both online and offline. Creating and planning successful micro moments ensures that brands are successfully in touch and relevant with the customer over the course of the research stage.

Customers intending to buy a car partake in a number of digital interactions before actually engaging with dealers. The key strategy of car brands should be to actively seek and interact with customers, with some of the key benchmark micro moments below:

Consumer buying process visual | Developing a Digital Strategy for an Automobile Brand | Neon

Research suggests that 63% of prospective buyers start with a brand in mind, but only 20% purchase the vehicle they initially started the research with. This shows how impressionable consumers are during the research process and the importance of appealing to the user in this time of consideration.

On average, the research stage for a vehicle lasts more than four months, with many explorations happening via digital channels. A typical automobile consumer journey begins on a search engine, with a specific brand name in mind.

Online research typically leads to reviews of vehicles, more recently dominating video sites such as YouTube. The below image, taken from a study by Millward-Brown, demonstrates consumer touchpoints four months prior to purchase. A study by McKinsey suggests that ⅔ of consumer touchpoints during the evaluation phase are internet reviews.

Customer Research: Mapping

It is extremely important for businesses to obtain information on end-users, in order to ensure marketers can be clear and concise about the journey their consumers follow. In order to develop customer experiences, brands should start mapping this data.

To create balance, marketers will need to conduct both analytical and anecdotal research. Whilst analytical research focuses on data-based decision making using support tools, anecdotal research focusses on trying to uncover the user experience.

Car brands supply a multitude of products, so it’s important to map as many different consumer journeys as possible to align with marketing efforts. There is no specific way to arrange customer journey maps, but they should capture the user voice and touch points throughout the full journey. A sample of an automobile shopping journey is provided below:

Consumer buying process | Developing a Digital Strategy for an Automobile Brand | Neon

These moments should be mapped for the various user personas and different products. This way, the marketing team can work to optimise the path to purchase of each prospective buyer and product.

Analytical & Anecdotal Research

There are many sources of data available to obtain user information; the most common being website analytics and search engine data. Analytical data should be read and considered carefully, to paint a full picture. For example, an influx of traffic on the website and a high average amount of time spent browsing the site doesn’t necessarily mean that the anticipated buyers are looking to make a purchase, it could actually mean that users are becoming lost on the website interface.

Anecdotal research demonstrates a personalised view of the end-user, working in correspondence with analytical data. User stories and experiences have to be understood fully to create a compelling user journey.

Consumer Insight Tools

The following consumer insight tools allow for customer mapping:

  1. Website analytics (such as Google Analytics) – map customer journey.
  2. Social Mentions or IBM Watson – understand brand name and sentiment.
  3. Search Trends or Consumer Barometer – provides an indication into customer behaviours.
  4. Google Consumer Surveys – used to collect information on existing customers.
  5. Hitwise – a powerful tool to learn demographic, behavioural and attitudinal data.
  6. Touchpoint Dashboard – a tool to build customer journeys, curating maps.


The path to understanding and setting out a consumer purchase journey is complex, and requires the optimisation of each touch point that the end-user experiences throughout the process. Customer journey mapping is an effective way to gain a better understanding of the customer, with the marketing and optimisation based on this being challenging yet rewarding.

Journey mapping should be completed with the support of analytical data and an anecdotal approach. The complex digital optimisation requires data-driven thinking, journey mapping and digital marketing optimisation in order to make it as effective for the business, and the consumer, as possible.

Do you understand your customer journey entirely? Is your business optimising digital in an effective way to increase sale conversions? If in doubt, get in touch with our team here, and see how we can help.

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