Back in the day, before widespread adoption of the internet, automakers could put a large chunk of their advertising dollars toward traditional media and point of purchase, i.e., car dealerships. If a customer was in the market for a new car, he or she would visit a dealership after being spurred to action by a TV spot or a print ad.
There, potential buyers would find glossy brochures showcasing the latest brand models and salespeople who helped them find the perfect driving solution for their needs. After a test drive or two and some negotiation, the customer would make a down payment on a new vehicle and drive off into the sunset.
It is no longer that simple. The purchase funnel is dead, but the consumer journey is alive and well.
Today, the road to purchase is significantly more complex, due to the overwhelming information – both technical and anecdotal – that is available on the web. As consumers research all makes and models, the process is no longer a linear narrowing down of options but a constant flow of choices that are illuminated by information found online. They research safety, performance, ownership costs and fuel economy. Even the number of cup holders could be a deal breaker. This journey, which now begins predominantly on the web, can last up to 6 months, only to begin again with each purchase of a new vehicle.
Automakers know that the consumer journey has shifted. The type of information sought out has not changed, but it is consumed in a whole new way and on a multitude of devices and channels. Articles and reviews from sources such as manufacturers, 3rd parties and other consumers is digested months before the actual purchase and continually pursued throughout the entirety of a car’s lifetime.
When that customer is in the market again for a new car, either for himself, a partner or a teen-aged child, you want them to be brand loyal and buy another vehicle from your manufacturer and dealership. Automakers need to rethink what is of most value to the customer in the long-term, at each point along the journey, and how they can forge a relationship that spans the average length of a car owner’s purchase and beyond. Therefore, it’s essential to effectively populate the “content highway” throughout the consumers’ journey.
For example, the owner’s manual should be a key component in building loyalty and maintaining satisfaction. As you can guess, I don’t mean the physical printed copy that lives in the glove compartment.
What if it was available via an app on your phone and you could quickly search how to change a flat? Now, you’re talking. The convenience and ease of access would increase the consumer’s loyalty factor, not to mention, true love for the brand. Take things a step further and make the process for getting directions on how to fix your flat as simple as taking a picture of it so that your app could identify the corresponding steps to get you back on the road.
Car owners want to feel that the relationship with the brand doesn’t end when they drive their new car out of the dealership. Offering support and guidance at each mile of the consumer journey is key to building a lifelong relationship.
The fact that this process isn't linear isn't important. What is important, is that marketers need to know what information consumers need at each phase of the shopping and ownership journey, and what the best device and channels are for that content. Successful marketers understand, that in the context of the consumer journey, it is more effective to think like a publisher than an old school marketer who is still wedded to the inaccurate convenience of the purchase funnel.