Some surprising sights along car shopper’s purchase path, Nielsen finds

Process of elimination.

Start with all the possibilities, whittle that to a handful, then, maybe a couple, and, finally, choose one. Of course, that’s how consumers go about their car-buying journey.

Or is it?

121118 IL Some surprising sights along car shopper’s purchase path, Nielsen finds

The Nielsen Company’s Auto Marketing Report 2018 suggests that vehicle shoppers, in fact, don’t use a process of elimination, leaving open the door for dealerships to affect shoppers’ choices even if they are well along the path to purchase.

“Marketers have used [the model] for decades to illustrate how people shop,” the report says, pointing out that there are two misconceptions with this idea.

“The first misconception is that people don’t have any … bias favoring one brand over another at the start of the car-buying process. The second misconception is that car shopping is a process [in which] people eliminate brands one by one until a winner finally emerges.”

Here’s what the Nielsen research shows:

  1. Car buyers do, in fact, have a bias to [certain] brands throughout the path to purchase, being “much more likely to purchase a car from a carmaker they had on their mind already.”
  2. The number of brands considered actually increases the closer a person gets to a final decision.

“Car shoppers start out on the path to purchase by considering two to three brands on average,” according to the report. “They’re aware of many more, of course, but by the time they’re ready to buy, they typically have five brands under consideration – nearly twice as many as they started with.”

“The fact that shoppers are considering more brands as time goes by is encouraging for auto marketers,” says Nielsen. “It suggests that car shoppers are open to considering additional brands even while having a top-of-mind brand that carries a natural advantage.”

Nielsen concedes that “on the surface … [the study] findings seem paradoxical: The first points to inertia or immutability in the car selection process, while the second points to a degree of open-mindedness for new brands along the way.”

So what are the implications for vehicle marketers, including dealerships.

“The key is to develop campaigns that can deliver on … building long-term brand equity and capturing people’s attention when they’re weighing their options.”

This requires “an understanding of how different media channels should be leveraged along the path to purchase,” according to Nielsen, with “mass reach media” such as radio and TV for brand building, “transitioning to more targeted and ‘personalizable’ media including mobile, digital and direct mail to increase purchase consideration and dealership foot traffic.”

The findings are based on online surveys conducted by Nielsen every quarter since 2012 to understand the behavior of car buyers in the U.S., with more than 220,000 surveys completed to date.

The complete report is available to download from Nielsen’s website.

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