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2014 Western Canadian Dealer Summit: Al Awadia’s “A Car Buyer’s Journey”

“Digital marketing no longer exists; we are marketing in a digital world.” -Clive Sirkin

If you’ve never had the opportunity of seeing Al Awadia from Google speak, you are missing out. Aside from his cool and calm presentation demeanor and his slick slides, he is probably the smartest man in the room. Let’s take you through a highlight reel of Al’s presentation for the 2014 Western Canadian Dealer Summit, entitled “A Car Buyer’s Journey,” first developed for Google’s 2014 Think Auto Conference.

The 3 Phases of Buying

Buyers are spending time in three phases. What we need to understand is what they do in each phase, and how they shift between phases.

So what are the three phases?

  1. Thinking
  2. Researching
  3. Buying

Phase 1: Thinking

Typically, consumers spend 30 days in the thinking stage and consider three brands. But what takes them to the next step? Two of the strongest sources of ad stimuli that help consumers shift into the Researching phase are online video and television. Yes, people are watching video online; if you’re a dealer, or if you follow this blog even semi-regularly, this should not be news to you. This should be your prime area of focus. As for TV, let the OEM take care of that.

Phase 2: Researching

Once out of the Thinking stage, consumers are spending an average of 22 days in the Researching phase, and at this point they’ll still be considering three brands. Here consumers are using 26 research touch points (up from 24 in the previous phase) and 78% of these sources are online. Which are the most important? The OEM website, search, and your dealer site. Video is also used, and it’s on the rise!

Paid Search

Al spoke to the point that 97% of Canadians are using search—and it is a huge catalyst to get people moving—but only 46% of Canadian dealers are using search advertising. My first thought was to wonder how that breaks down between rural and metro dealers. If you’re using paid search as part of your strategy, you are definitely ahead of the curve.

Data with More Depth and Definition

When it comes to data, we know a lot more specifics about individuals now, too. Before we simply knew what it was that people were searching for, and then tried to make backwards inferences from there. Now we know what people are searching for, at what time of day, from what device, and from where! Basically, customers seek information for everything from anywhere and everywhere, including the dealership lot, and they are not always looking at your site. Think about relevancy in your search campaigns. Al used an example of someone searching for an F-150 in two different scenarios.

Scenario 1: Searching on a smartphone, 1 mile from dealership, 3:30pm in the afternoon.

Are you serving this customer the right ad? What does it need? Call now to talk to your local representative, click to call, proper extensions, directions.

Scenario 2: Searching from home, on a laptop, 11:14am in the morning.

What does this consumer get? Build and Price, Search Inventory, Promotions.


Relevancy: the right ad at the right time to the right person.

Search used to be about intent, now it is about context.

Phase 3: Buying

So when the consumer shifts to buying, they are spending 18 days and now have it narrowed down to two brands. In 35% of cases, though, a fourth brand that they were not originally considering pops up.  At this phase the Internet still plays the biggest role, but secondary to the internet in this phase is your dealership and the experience you are giving these customers.

Response time and quality of response matter. If you think auto-response emails and getting back to the customer a day later telling them to come on down is a good strategy, we have bad news for you:

  • 34% of people were not satisfied with the timeliness of the response that they received. That’s a full one third of your consumers. In addition to that, of that one third of dissatisfied customers who felt their wait was too long, 80% had heard back within a day.
  • 35% of people were not satisfied with the quality of response, either. So what do people want in a response? They want a faster reply, and they want you to answer their questions properly, without coming across manipulative or pushy.

The cost for a slow or incomplete response at this phase of the buying process is a lost customer. But what are the numbers behind this?

  • One out of three people are going to another dealership
  • One out of five are going to switch brands

What’s Your Number? Visiting Multiple Dealerships

One stat that seems to get thrown around more often than it should is the idea of how many dealerships people are visiting. We have heard anything from 1.2 – 1.9 and everything in between, and while I’m sure that the number lies somewhere in that range, here is what Al and Google had to say about it:

People are going to fewer dealerships:

  • 35% of people only visit one dealership
  • 27% of people visit two dealerships
  • 19% of people visit three dealerships
  • 19% of people visit four or more dealerships

One stat worth noting is that of the people visiting two, three, or four dealerships, 54% of them are visiting the same brand of dealerships.

People Want to Deal with Fewer People

So what are people looking for when they come into the dealership? Do they want you to be their best friend, directing and pushing them towards what you think they need? No.

  • 32% of people want a self-serve style experience. Like the government-controlled liquor stores of a bygone era, they want to hand you a piece of paper with what they want, sign for it, and drive away. Tesla anyone? (In an age where people would rather text than talk on the phone, does a further move away from face-to-face dealings still seem strange?)
  • 54% want you to act as a facilitator
  • Only 14% of people want the hand-holding type of experience

Consider this the age of the introvert. In 86% of the cases, people either want some help or want you to get out of the way. If they’re checking through the till or need something pulled down from a higher shelf, they’ll come find you. If not, just keep eliminating the friction.

What about Mobile?

All this talk and nothing so far about mobile? Well here we go.

It seems like every year for the past half-decade has been the year of mobile. Now 40% of car buyers use mobile for research, up 50% over 2013. Enough said?

And what do they expect on a mobile device? You need to make it easy for them. Can you auto detect their location? Can they click to call? Is the navigation simple, and can they just type in the bare minimum to find the information they’re after? Does your website consistently stay mobile or does it flip flop back to your desk top site?

Looking Ahead

A lot of great data, and a lot of things to consider — but that was 2014.

What does the future look like? Moving forward, people are asking for the ability to book a service appointment time online, test drive cars from home, buy parts online, and one day, maybe, buy their car online.

Event Recap, Western Canadian Dealer Summit

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