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10 min read

How Buyer ‘Moments’ Are Driving Digital Marketing in the Automotive Industry

This article was updated on: 07.02.2022

The automotive industry is one which prides itself on innovation. You only need to look at the range of car adverts that appear on our television screens each day to see how much emphasis the industry puts on new designs and better performance.

It’s an industry where the rules of engagement can differ quite significantly from those we are used to when dealing with everyday products. Much like industries like travel or fashion, the process of purchasing a new car is often an emotive one; buyers are primarily driven by logic but underpinning that is a desire to own a certain vehicle or seemingly ‘illogical’ perceptions or aspirations.

The car buying process is increasingly digital. It’s for this reason that car dealers and manufacturers must innovate their digital strategies – yet many, as we’ll explore here, have barely found second gear when it comes to their online marketing. With the largest conference of car dealers, CDX, taking place today, we’re looking at how dealerships and manufacturers can supercharge their digital strategies.

How important is digital marketing in the automotive sector?

As digital technologies evolve, and especially with the rise of mobile use, digital marketing represents an opportunity for the automotive sector to reach much wider audiences than ever before. No longer restricted to people within their immediate location, car dealers and manufacturers can reach customers online across the UK.

As user behaviour around the car buying process continues to evolve, it’s more important than ever that dealers and manufacturers innovate, improve and refine. When the audience is investing so much – both financially and emotionally – into a purchase, we owe it to them to deliver the best user experience we can and to make the purchase as easy and enjoyable as possible. After all, it’s not every day we buy a new car.

Particularly with big ticket items like cars, the journey to purchase begins long before the customer enters the showroom. There are many influencers in this journey, too, and in order to tap into each of them, the automotive industry needs to make better use of the available digital channels and technologies.

In an article published in November 2015, Google’s David Mogensen, head of YouTube ads and former automative marketer, stated that:

The average car shopper today makes just two dealership visits in the search for the perfect vehicle. That’s because today car shoppers turn to mobile to research models, find deals, and get real time advice.

He suggested that the days of browsing car dealerships are behind us, and that instead, the journey to buying a car is made up of micro moments – small interactions which together lead to one big outcome. He theorised five digital moments that matter most in a car buyer’s journey, these being:

Which-car-is-best moments

With shoppers entering the market less sure of what they want than ever before, Mogensen suggests that the first important moment set is that where we explore which car is ‘best’; they’ll look for advice from friends, social validation, read magazines and online publications and look increasingly to YouTube reviews and TV ads to get a better understanding of what’s available.

Is-it-right-for-me moments

Once they know what’s available, buyers want to work out if the car is right for them. This is where they’ll start seeking more practical information. Mogensen suggests they’ll seek out specs such as how many seats it has, how many miles it’ll do to the gallon and whether little Timmy, the dog and all of this week’s shopping can fit in the back! In his report, Mogensen states that:

Historically, fuel efficiency has been a key factor at this stage, but as gas prices drop, interest in fuel economy has followed suit, decreasing since 2011. One of the areas we’re seeing increased interest in is hauling capacity. Search interest is up for trunk (boot) space and towing capacity by 15% and 30% respectively year over year. We’ve seen interest in luxury options on the rise with search interest up for features like panoramic sunroof and backup camera by 31% and 23% respectively year over year.

Can-I-afford-it moments

This is where the buyer starts to get even more practical, asking whether they can afford the vehicle in the first instance and then how much it will cost them to maintain over time. Interest in trade in value is up to record levels according to Google’s data, suggesting buyers retain an interest in their current vehicle even when they’ve decided to buy a new one.

Where-should-I-buy-it moments

Knowing where to buy the car from is still a sticking point for car buyers. Whilst in the past, dealers were the obvious choice, today’s audience has become more savvy to the potential deals to be had when buying from private sellers – and the downfalls therein. With the rise of automotive search platforms like AutoTrader, we’ve become used to browsing far more vehicles before we even come into physical contact with one.

Am-I-getting-a-deal moments

Finally, the car buyer wants to know they’re getting value for money. We all seek a ‘good deal’ wherever we can, and this is where the buyer will seek to negotiate. They will also look to expand their knowledge of the specific vehicle they’re looking to buy by reviewing similar vehicles and how much they sold for. Much of this exploration happens on their mobiles, and often happens while they’re in the dealership itself.

What this research shows is that digital marketing in the automotive sector is essential if dealers and manufacturers want to reach their audience at all potential touch points. By investing in their digital strategies, automotive brands can guide their audience to a purchase and create a stronger relationship with them along the way.

Tapping into car buying ‘moments’ through digital marketing

Digital marketing is always evolving and, like the automotive sector itself, digital marketers seek to innovate, improve and refine. With this comes the development of new technologies and techniques. Here’s how some of those fit into the five key moments described by Google:

Finding the ‘best’ car

Much of the car buying decision comes down to aspirations of the buyer. They have preconceptions about brands and models driven by TV advertising and long term brand awareness. For example, Skoda has promoted the idea of ‘affordable’ cars, while Ferrari is more synonymous with luxury.

We can help users during the ‘finding the best car’ stage in a variety of ways. Online guides, for example, are a simple yet highly effective way of showing your expertise as a dealer and positioning your brand and helpful and reliable. The AA has put together a series of articles to help buyers better understand what they need to look for when buying a car; dealers should be producing content like this in order to reach buyers pre-showroom.

Is it right for me?

Much of the way we assess how ‘right’ something is for us is by looking for social validation from our peers and those we trust. While the driver portrayed on the advert, with his slicked back hair and designer shades, might love the car he’s in, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be a good fit for the family who need a vehicle to transport them to school.

In order to best tap into this ‘moment’, car dealers must understand their audience and be able to empathise with their needs. This could mean creating personas, or simply spending more time speaking to customers to understand their needs and translating those needs into tangible content and marketing initiatives.

For example, the creation of video car reviews can be hugely powerful. Carsnip, an online car search brand, is one which is investing in user generated content to create ‘honest reviews’ that help their audience work out which vehicle is right for them.

Tackling the price

We can sometimes be afraid to talk price with prospects. But the bottom line is that, if they can’t afford it, there’s no point to anyone in pursuing the sale.

This is something that can again be covered by guides and articles, reviews and the language we use around vehicles. There is also an opportunity here to draw in the potential customer before they’re even thinking of buying a car. If we know price to be a factor, we can share other content which positions certain vehicles as cost savers or shows the investment potential.

For example, there are 110 searches each month for the phrase ‘how to save fuel’; dealers might showcase some of their most fuel efficient vehicles in a guide to hybrid cars, or a video which shows how to drive more efficiently. This would enable dealers to capture searchers closer to the top of the sales funnel.

Building relationships

The ‘where should I buy’ question, especially when buying a car, comes down to the trust the buyer has in your brand. This means shedding the stereotype of the ‘pushy’ salesperson and instead focusing on sharing high quality advice and guidance, and building those relationships that nurture trust.

Social media is an excellent place to do this, as this is where we can engage with our audience in a real conversation. Tools like Hootsuite enable us to quickly identify users who are talking about buying a car or any problems/queries with their current vehicle. By being available to people and giving good, honest advice, we stay top of their minds when they come to need our services.

Tips for digital marketing in the automotive sector

Here are our tips for digital marketers in the automotive industry to supercharge their strategies:

1) Know your audience

Knowing your audience is an essential part of any digital marketing strategy. To say we’re targeting ‘people who want to buy cars’ doesn’t go deep enough; rather, we need to understand how our audience is segmented by basic elements such as demographics, location, lifestyle and so on, and then go further into what motivates them.

We recently delivered a presentation on how to build audience personas, which you may find useful and which can be found here:

Once we know what motivates our audience, we can create content and conversations which tap into their needs.

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is an increasingly important tool for car dealers and manufacturers. As Google showed with their research into ‘moments’, so much more of the pre-showroom journey happens online and we need to ensure our brand is visible to searchers.

This means creating great content which taps into our audience and their motivations. Primarily, we need to ensure the basics are covered – our website can be crawled by Google, we have clear pages for brands as well as models, our internal search functionality is up to scratch. But beyond that, it’s thinking about what content we can create to appeal to longer tail searches, such as ‘which car is most fuel efficient’ or ‘what’s the best car for dog owners’.

Focus on creating ‘rich’ content too. This refers to content which is more developed, interactive or engaging that a simple text article. This might include videos, podcasts, photos, graphics, interactive graphics and so on. These types of content work well in search because Google recognises that it can provide more value to the user – but it must work well on a mobile device as well as desktop.

3) Have a mobile first strategy

Mobile is such a key part of any digital marketing strategy. Nowhere is it more prominent than in the automotive sector, where audiences are browsing mobile devices to find the car of their dreams.

This starts with ensuring your site works on a mobile. Invest in a responsive website as a minimum – this means it will work on any device size. Then devise a strategy which centres on mobile, where your content works on a mobile device and you consider longer tail (voice style) searches and location based targeting.


The automotive sector is one where innovation and improvement are key. Digital marketing for automotive businesses should be no different. Let us know how you’re developing your digital strategy in the automotive sector in the comments below, or contact us if you’d like to find out how we can help.