Over the last 10 years, marketing has grown exponentially.

As a result, there are more marketing channels and more marketing agencies than ever before.

Some agencies specialize in specific channels – others try to do it all. Many, unfortunately, make promises and boast results they can’t deliver.

As a dealer, it’s difficult to filter through all of this and determine which channels to prioritize and which agencies will provide the best return on investment for those channels.

The problem increases when you consider that even the agencies that understand automotive marketing (and can navigate the latest digital channels and tools) don’t always have a good grasp on the social, economic, and technological factors that affect the marketing we so heavily rely on.

Customer Loyalty is Dead

Many of you probably remember the days when families were more loyal to specific brands and even models of vehicles.

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These were the days when car buyers had to rely on their local dealers for information about discounts and savings.

But this is no longer the case. Customer loyalty is dead because shoppers no longer need dealerships to provide the information they seek as they choose their next vehicle. Let’s face it, in the past, most people limited their choices to a few select brands because it was inconvenient to visit dealerships all over town, to get the information they wanted.

If you were a Chevy owner, the percentages were high that another Chevrolet was going to be in your top three to four choices as you shopped for your next vehicle. If you were a Toyota owner, more than likely you narrowed your choices to another Toyota, Honda or Nissan.

Today, they can find everything they need online – on third-party sites. On these sites, shoppers have access to more brands, models and pricing options than ever before. Car buyers consider almost three times more models today because technology has made it easier to shop multiple brands and models.

Dealerships have lost the loyalty of their customers because most defections are defecting from the brand. The manufacturer and dealer have lost control of the buying journey.

The Internet is saturated with commoditized inventory and pricing and, by the time a shopper is ready to purchase a vehicle, they already know what make, model, year, and price they’re willing to pay for it.

In addition, people aren’t buying vehicles as frequently as they used to. The length of ownership for the average vehicle owner has increased from 4.3 to 6.5 years and the average age of vehicles is rising.

This means dealers are seeing customers less often between purchases – if they see repeat customers at all.

By the time a vehicle owner is ready to purchase another vehicle, their lifestyle, more than likely, has changed.

If they’re purchasing a vehicle for a larger family or for their teenage son or daughter, then they’re probably in the market for something completely different than they currently own or previously purchased – which means the analytics and algorithms we used to rely on to predict their next vehicle are much less reliable. They are still part of the equation but not nearly as important.

The Marketing Mistake Everyone is Making

As marketers seek to reach the exact right shoppers with the exact right message at the exact right time, they make one critical mistake: they keep using the old algorithms that put too much importance on previous purchase history to predict future purchases. Which means more times than not… they have the wrong message to the wrong person.

They assume that shoppers who previously bought a Honda Civic will want to purchase the same vehicle, or a similar vehicle (like a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry), in the future. But the data says this would be a huge mistake.

So, when the time comes, they begin reaching out to those shoppers with marketing that’s “specific” to them. The problem is, the message is all wrong.

Focus on In-Market Shoppers

The truth is, it’s much harder today to predict what vehicle owners will buy in the future.

But, it is much easier and more important to be able to predict when they will buy and capture their interest during those key decision-making moments.

This will take a skilled data analyst and some strategic targeting, but, in today’s day and age, this is what matters – even more than traditional buying behavior.

And you must act quickly – the average shopper is only “in-market” for 108 days!2

This means you only have a short window to catch their attention and influence them into your dealership.

Focus on where they will be (mobile or desktop, work or home – they’re definitely doing their research online!) and meet them there. Consider what they’re looking for and what information matters to them and do your best to provide it!

Shoppers need to know five things when they’re searching for their next vehicle:

  1. Which Car is Best
  2. Is it Right for Me
  3. Can I Afford It
  4. Where Should I Buy It
  5. Am I Getting a Deal

Target critical decision-making moments by answering these key in-market shopper questions.

By targeting in-market shoppers with information that readily answers these top questions, you can gain their attention during crucial decision-making moments.

There’s No Time to Lose

Here’s what you need to know: Shoppers can find all the answers they need without your help.

They don’t want you to clutter their mail box, inbox, or browser with incentives and discounts because they can find that information elsewhere and they don’t want you to tell them what they should buy because you can’t predict what they need or even want!

Relying on old marketing strategies like these is the quickest way to lose influence over the buying process.

Your marketing challenge is to give in-market shoppers easy access to better answers than anyone else can provide. Remember it is easier today to predict when they are going to buy. Plus, car buyers are more willing to shop a variety of brands and models, so make it simple for them. The most successful stores today, proactively reach out to in-market buyers and offer them the information they really want.

By streamlining your marketing message in this way, you can differentiate your marketing message and dealership from the competition and influence more buyers into your showroom. It’s the smartest way to reach in-market shoppers.

But hurry – you’ve only got 108 days.



  1. IHS Automotive U.S., 2015
  2. https://d8imphy647zzg.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/132420_Car-Buyer-Journey_Study-Brochure_Single-FINAL-FINAL-3.pdf