says Andy Turton, Global Development Director, TNS Automotive
For more than fifty years, the automotive industry planned its communication strategies around a linear model of the purchase process, in which the 5 main traditional media played specific roles over the course of several months, with dealers owning the final stages of this process and 'closing the deal'.
The advent of digital and social blurred the picture and brought a great deal of uncertainty to the industry.
Automotive brands were in the dark about the impact that online conversations were having on the way consumers chose their new car; they also were unsure whether these new digital channels complimented or competed against their own messages conveyed through broadcast media.
Car buyers are heavy users of the Internet, with 67% using digital sources to research new cars - more than any other category! They also rely heavily on these sources to form their opinions: 60% of new car buyers in the UK or China who read about car makes & models often change their mind based on online reviews...
With these figures in mind, knowing when, where and how to best engage with consumers is vital to car manufacturers.
A recent study conducted by TNS in China has shed some light on these challenges. It looked at new car buyers' media use and make & model shopping list development throughout their journey to purchase, tracking in real time every influence affecting consumer decision-making.
Below are three of the multiple thought-provoking insights and implications for OEMs that emerged from this unique study; these are facts of life for all brands in China:
Communication strategies must address the multiple paths to purchase.
On average, Chinese consumers take 2-3 months to complete their buying cycle. As so often, the average masks the insight: in China the path to purchase is a polarised picture, with more than 40% of consumers making their choice within less than 1 month and almost 50% taking 4 months or longer: planning communications for the average buyer is dangerous. In China, the fast and the slow buyers use media in different ways and for different purposes. Brands must recognise these multiple paths to purchase and plan for each accordingly.
Brand websites need to act as vehicles to convey brand values and promises.
Brand websites are currently designed for consumers reaching the end of their purchase journey, focussing on vehicle specification details and comparisons with carefully selected competitors. Chinese consumers whose buying process exceeds 1 month actually visit brand websites right from the beginning to the very end of their buying process. To meet the needs that consumers have at different stages, brand websites need to grow beyond spec comparisons to clearly convey the brand's values, qualities and promises.
Dealerships remain a key part of the buying process.
Although Chinese car buyers often turn to friends & family and online consumer reviews for advice - checking and validating the claims made by brands - dealers retain a key role in the process. In contrast to developed automotive markets, car dealers in China are the most trusted source of advice, and often play a decisive role in make/model choice.
Later this year, as we roll this study out to other parts of the globe, we'll discover the relevance of these insights beyond China.
One thing is already clear though: brands that learn how to reach and engage potential customers in each discrete path to purchase will win in the race to sell more vehicles than last year and more than the competition.
Check out the world's first real time analysis of the car-buying process: www.tnsglobal.com/tapps