If there's a situation in which even the most confident and accomplished of women feel vulnerable, it's got to be when they're buying a car. Take an informal survey of the women in your life and most likely you'll get the same reaction-- an intense recoil at the mere thought of entering a dealership or negotiating a purchase.
This point hit home several years ago when I was still with CarsDirect.com, and I received a letter from a renowned singer/actress (whose privacy I will maintain). She thanked me for the transparency involved in the transaction itself -- the upfront price and the availability of credible information -- coupled with the anonymity afforded to her by being able to use the internet. In fact, she admitted, that was the first time she'd ever bought a car for herself. And she did so because it was the only time she wasn't treated differently, either for being a celebrity or for being a woman.
What can marketers learn from this? First, some context. According to AskPatty.com, a website that provides women with automotive advice, women purchase half of the vehicles sold in the United States each year-- spending more than $80 billion. Clearly, women make up a critical market segment.
But marketing cars to women online requires finding the intersection where the answers to these two most important questions meet:
- What do women care most about when buying a car?
- And how do women use the internet?
A trusted salesperson, and a specific car
By and large, women say they feel like they're being taken advantage of when buying a car. They want to buy from someone they trust, and they want to be informed, empowered and in control of the process. Incorporating trust-building features into the business model itself is a great first step-- like giving buyers an upfront price online and guaranteeing it with a printable certificate that they can bring to the dealership.
Marketing messages should highlight specific vehicles (which may have good incentives on them, to boot) and tout particular conveniences. For example, the electronic rear hatch closers on the Lincoln and Cadillac SUVs are extremely popular. Other features women have indicated interest in include anything that increases safety, and features designed with the kids in mind-- like built-in DVD players, easy third row seating access, et cetera.
Consider asking OEMs to pony up for the extra exposure. They can measure the success rate, or you could test it upfront for a limited time and use the results to sell them such marketing possibilities.
Build relationships online
Here's where car marketers often stumble. Successfully connecting with women online involves more than just knowing what they want to hear. Marketers must know how -- and from whom -- they want to hear it.
According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, whereas men like the internet for the experience it offers, women like it for the human connections it promotes. Women are enthusiastic online communicators, and they share an appreciation for the web's efficiency -- its ability to simplify their lives -- and for its function as a gateway to limitless vaults of information.
But, perhaps the most notable difference is found in the way men and women shop for cars. Pew Internet reports that women tend to treat information-gathering online as a more textured and interactive process-- one that includes support groups and personal email exchanges.
So, a few tips on process:
- Offer upfront, transparent pricing. Yes, I said this already, but it can't be said enough. This is a huge factor when building trust, and we all know that trust is the cornerstone of any healthy relationship.
- Tap into affinity buying groups that are popular with women. Offer deals to women's professional and social organizations, consumer rewards programs, retail membership groups and large employers.
- Use email wisely. Assign a specific person at your dealership to respond to email inquiries, and make sure that same person follows the relationship through-- don't bounce potential customers around from person to person. The consistency, combined with accurate information and friendly service, will create a relationship that women can trust.
- Create an online community through which women (or anyone) can interact with dealer staff and their fellow consumers. Foster an environment where they can pose questions about the cars, features, maintenance and financing-- and where enthusiasts can share their passion. The anonymity of the web gives them a safe place to get their questions answered, helping solidify the relationship and possibly boosting sales.
As any relationship guru will tell you, women seek connection. The automotive marketers who know this and embrace online technology to facilitate connection in a genuine way will turn those women into happy customers.
Scott Painter is CEO of Zag, Inc. .