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In her role as the automotive industry development manager at Google, Kimberly Stonehouse leads marketing and research for the company’s North American automotive clients and agency partners. Stonehouse spoke with eMarketer’s Lauren McKay about Google’s automotive research and what factors are influencing the way today’s consumers shop for automotive products.
eMarketer: How long does it take a typical consumer to research and purchase a vehicle?
Stonehouse: A vehicle purchase process takes about three months, on average—and that is a considerable amount of time. We’re also seeing an interplay between digital and the dealer. Digital media is used often for comparison purposes to determine the consideration set and narrow it, but it is not negating the importance of the dealer.
The test drive at the dealer is the No. 1 offline research source, so it’s important to have both those online and in-person experiences. To illustrate the handoff between digital and the dealer, 31% of 2010 auto purchasers visited a dealership site during the six months prior to purchase. And that actually represents a 50% increase from 2009. This is one of the biggest jumps we’ve seen.
eMarketer: What are consumers doing on dealer websites?
Stonehouse: They are doing everything from locating a dealership to watching automotive videos. Since consumers are going to these sites more than in the past, marketers should really examine and consider increasing the content for online video the same way they’ve focused on the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) or brand level.
eMarketer: On the topic of vehicle brands, what are OEMs doing to get auto shoppers’ to their sites?
Stonehouse: Automakers aren’t trying to necessarily predict where a shopper is in their purchase funnel, but are providing choice so shoppers can determine where they want to go, where they want to find information. For example, if you search for Toyota on Google, you’ll typically see an ad for the brand, Toyota.com, you’ll see a site within the ad space for BuyaToyota.com, which is the national dealer site. And you’ll also most likely see an ad for a local Toyota dealer.
What Toyota and what a lot of our automaker partners are doing is recognizing that it’s difficult to predict from a search of Toyota, or something similar, exactly what the consumer is doing or is looking for. They can increase their efficiency and, in many cases, lower their acquisition cost or lead cost by providing that choice. It increases the likelihood that the consumer will click because they’re provided with all of the options that they could potentially be looking for, regardless of where they are in the funnel.
eMarketer: How has social media affected the auto buying process?
Stonehouse: We’ve done a lot of research on online video and our YouTube property. Auto shoppers are certainly using YouTube. According to Nielsen, more than half of all in-market auto—car or truck—buyers will have visited YouTube in any particular month. So we know shoppers are there. We know that over half of videos receive a comment, and there’s an extensive amount of review content on YouTube. The third-party sites were actually one of the first categories within automotive to get on YouTube and to upload content.
When it comes to the social space, we see an intersection of video and engagement that becomes very powerful. At that moment, you have the experience of sight, sound and motion alongside the social content and review. Taken together, it really makes the vehicle come to life.
eMarketer: How and when does mobile come into the picture?
Stonehouse: Mobile is one of the biggest consumer trends this year, and we’re really starting to see automakers recognize the importance of mobile in the shopping process. Within automotive specifically, it varies among brands, but up to 20% of search traffic to OEMs comes through a mobile device. So that’s a tipping point for automakers to realize that mobile is a substantial portion of search traffic, and those consumers are ones they need to reach.
We’ve seen that mobile traffic doesn’t replace desktop by any means. It’s additive, and it’s complementary. Through our search data, we see more desktop search traffic in the middle of the day, but mobile will spike in the evenings. Although mobile usage is strong in the evening timeframes, it also has proliferated past what the typical uses and time periods you might expect.
eMarketer: What advantage does the mobile platform offer to local dealerships?
Stonehouse: We know that, in general, one in three mobile searches is local. When a mobile device can recognize a consumer’s location, it becomes a much more powerful tool. One thing Google has done recently is to develop hyper-local search ads that tell mobile users their exact distance from an advertiser.
Dealers can provide an offer to a consumer who is driving around looking for a vehicle on a Saturday. This enables the advertiser to send a targeted message—and for the consumer to receive something useful and relevant.
A longer version of this interview is available to eMarketer Total Access clients only. If you’d like to learn more about becoming a Total Access client, click here.
Check out today’s other article, “Social Network Comments Fuel Offline Behavior.”
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