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Both Sides of the U

Understanding the New Buyer’s Journey

If you started working in car sales today, you’d hear industry vets insisting that this is the easiest the job has ever been. Dealership-level sales look more like order taking than true selling in 2022. With limited inventory that isn’t expected to be meaningfully replenished until well into 2023, there simply isn’t much room for the traditional sales process of concession and customization with the shopper.

Knowing that the sales journey has changed at the dealership level, we must also consider how the buyer’s journey has changed.

Rethinking the Old Funnel

The tried and true model of the customer journey is the funnel. That’s how the automotive industry has structured its marketing efforts for decades. The top of the funnel belongs to tier 1 advertisers – the brands as a whole. These are national, big-budget campaigns meant to drive awareness of the brand, targeting buyers 8-10 weeks out. Tier 2 comes next, meant to stimulate consideration and favorability of that specific brand 4-6 weeks ahead of purchase. Finally, tier 3, or dealership-level advertising, is designed to drive customer traffic to a specific store for purchasing. These are customers in the 3-10 day consideration period leading up to a purchase. And this is where tier 3 works its magic and secures sales. The entire buyer’s journey using the funnel model is based on a 10-week consideration-to-purchase path.

The funnel model has been highly effective for understanding an automotive customer’s buying journey. So, if it works so well, why change it? The answer to that question lies in the larger changes that have taken place in the industry – the same changes we discussed at the beginning of this article.

To market to modern customers, you need a modernized buyer’s journey.

The New, U-Shaped Funnel

The persisting inventory shortage has forced buyers to rethink how they go about purchasing a vehicle. Today’s buyers fall primarily into two categories, concentrated at the ends of the U illustrated below.

With limited options on the car lot, buyers are often forced to make a tough decision: purchase what’s available now, or hold out for what they really want. Immediate need and available resources play into this choice. However, the U-shaped buyer’s journey extends beyond just those two factors. It is also largely influenced by psychology.

With people on the impulse side of the U, a multi-month-long wait for the vehicle they desire is simply too much. These buyers are ready to make a fast decision and purchase something that is on the lot today. Those who are more patient and discerning are fine waiting six months for the exact vehicle they want to come in. Those are the aspirational buyers.

You will find people within the U who are between these two extremes. But the majority of today’s buyers will fall on one end or the other. Having covered the new U-shaped buyer’s journey, we’re left with a question: How should dealers adjust their marketing?

Reaching Buyers Within the U

Inside the dealership, it should be fairly easy for the salesperson to identify which category a shopper falls into – impulse or aspirational. Marketing, on the other hand, lacks the on-the-ground advantage and must be adjusted from a strategic level.

First, it’s important to close the sale quickly with impulse buyers. They are looking for speed and convenience above all. In marketing to these customers, stress the availability of vehicles you have on your lot along with the value they can receive by choosing your dealership today.

Next, market to aspirational buyers by keeping them engaged with your dealership so that they return when the vehicle they are shopping for has arrived on the lot. Remember that tier 3 advertising is focused on promoting a specific dealership to customers. When these buyers are ready to purchase months down the line, you want your store to be the one they select.

For all consumers within the U, the most powerful tactic a dealership has is continuous marketing. With drawn-out purchase timelines in the mix, you are guaranteed to miss sales by marketing inconsistently.

Much has changed for automotive over the past two years, and it’s important to align your understanding of car shoppers with these changes. Call me today to learn how you can better reach buyers on both sides of the U.

John Paul Strong

John Paul Strong combines his two decades of automotive marketing experience with a team of more than 150 professionals as owner and CEO of Strong Automotive.

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