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How Inbound Marketing Has Changed The Automotive Industry

Gone are the days of taking the family on a trip to the nearest car dealership and walking around a range of makes and models while a salesperson points out the features and gives you the prices. So if that’s no longer the way, how do buyers go about deciding which car to purchase in 2018?


Today, the modern car buyer doesn’t need to be shown around because they already know exactly what car they’re looking for. They don’t need to be told about the lane assists or phone mirroring or proximity sensors and keyless entry. They already know it all. And they also didn’t just happen to be passing your dealership and decide to pop in. They have already looked you up and chosen to visit you out of several others.

How do they know all this?

Because they have already spent a vast amount of time online before even setting foot into your dealership.

Whether it’s to research different models, read reviews, compare prices, see photos, find sale listings, locate dealers, or even test drive, a massive 97% of new car buyers are online before they decide to step foot into a dealership.


Why The Shift Online?

With such a high-value purchase, customers want to make the most informed decision they can before visiting a dealership to sign on the dotted line.

A survey by Autotrader revealed that the internet is more than 20 times more influential during the research phase of a car purchase than any other form of media, and this use of the internet is increasing year on year.

inbound marketing automotive internet

As you can see, digital marketing now plays a central role in the automotive industry, helping convert people into buyers. New research actually suggests that buyers spend 10 out of 13¾ hours of their entire buyer journey online. That’s a massive 75% of their time spent online researching before coming to the dealership to purchase.

Let’s take a deeper look at this automotive buyer journey.


The Automotive Customer Journey

The car buyers of today take a multi-channel journey — with over 900 digital touchpoints — through the three different stages of buying. These stages are:

The Auto Buyers Journey

Buying a car is a high-value purchase and this means people will dedicate a fair amount of time to making the right decision for them. As we mentioned before, buyers spend ten hours online and use seven or eight digital sources before reaching the decision stage.

If you want to make an impact and stand out from the crowd you MUST be present in every single phase of the buyer’s journey.

Having a multi-channel presence will make sure that you establish authority and brand awareness in the earlier stages and provide answers and solutions in the later stages.

But before you go diving into posting 500 Facebook posts and writing 20 blogs about car mechanics, you need to first think back to your individual buyer and their buying process.

This is where buyer personas will come in.


Buyer Personas

Buyer personas are fictional representations of your ideal customer and they form the foundation for any effective inbound marketing campaign. Buyer personas should highlight behaviour patterns, motivations, goals and pain points.

When creating your personas consider these questions:

Who are they? What is their family situation? Their job? What are their problems? What questions are they asking? Where would they look for information? How can you solve their problems? What is their normal buying habits?

You want to answer all the questions that your potential buyer has at all stages of their journey using a range of marketing tactics.

Ideally, you will come up with a handful of different personas which will be your ideal customers. For example a working mum, a teenager just passed their test, parents of a family of five, a long-distance business commuter, a high-earning professional and so on.

Let’s create one for a working mum car buyer:

buyer persona

Anna is a 34-year-old married mother of an 8-month-old baby and a 3-year-old toddler. She and her husband earn mid-level but with a growing family don’t have cash to burn, however, safety comes first. She works from home as a concept artist but sometimes travels to a shared office space in the city centre.

Her main concern is that her current car (2004 Volkswagen Beetle) isn’t as safe as it could be for two small children. It has a lot of problems that brings her to the garage quite often. They also have a large dog and all like to go on day trips together at the weekend so more room would be useful as well.

Okay, so that is a little bit about who Anna is as a person and what her main pain points are. Now let’s look at how she makes decisions.

Google gives a great example of a simple process that most auto buyers will consider during their research:

auto buyer decisions


Which Car Is Best?

For Anna, her best car is one that is safe for children as that is her main concern. Also one with a decent bit of room as a secondary concern.
She is most likely to look at blogs or articles that reference family safety and compare the features of different models.

Is It Right For Me?

When Anna has discovered a nice amount of family-friendly cars, she needs to look deeper into the car specs. Is this car right for her needs and her budget?

Just because one car seems best overall it might not be best for Anna’s specific needs. For example, if it doesn’t have enough space for her entire family including the dog and the picnic basket, she might want to compare different models or get recommendations based on certain cars.

Can I Afford It?

This question is likely to come a little further through the process as Anna will start properly comparing prices of specific car makes and models to know what she can afford.
She might start looking at price comparisons, offers and deals, finance options, road tax, insurance, etc.

Where should I Buy It?

This is one of the very final steps before a buyer chooses to go to your dealership and make a purchase. This is the stage where Anna knows what she wants and that she can afford it but she wants to buy it from the best place. After all, Anna wants the best deal and the best service as well. She is most likely to use local searches here to see what is closest to her location, e.g. “Audi Glasgow” or “car showroom Glasgow”.

Am I Getting A Deal?

This is most likely one of the final steps, if not THE final step before deciding to step into the dealership. With so much information available, Anna is going to want to make sure that she is getting the best deal from your dealership. As I mentioned, getting the best deal includes getting the best price, the best service and the best add-ons.


Wrapping Up Buyer Personas

As you read through these questions, I’m sure you can almost see where they would slot into the buyer’s journey. For example, Which Car Is Best? would be in the awareness stage, Is It Right For Me? would fall into the consideration stage and Am I Getting A Deal? is more likely in the decision stage.

However, a buyer’s journey is never just that simple and linear. That is why you need to be answering as many questions or addressing as many issues across all of the stages, taking these five decisions into consideration as you go.

Addressing each of these — along with any other questions, problems, or points of interest — will give you the best chance of pushing the buyer through each stage right into your dealership.

You will note as we continue, certain marketing tactics will appear in each of the three stages of the buyer journey. What is different is how the purpose will change during each stage. For example, social media is used in the awareness stage to inform and educate and then in the consideration stage as advertising or reviews.

There is no direct path that each auto buyer will take and you have to try to be there at each stage to provide what it is your user is looking for at each turn. Let’s take a look at the three stages.


The Awareness Stage

This is where the buyers are aware that they have a problem, a want, a need or desire and you should be there as a friendly reminder of what this is and how it can be solved.

Let’s take another look at Anna.

Is she in an endless cycle of bringing their car into the repair shop? Is she worried that her car could get into an accident or break down when she has her children with her? Is her car the safest it can be for her children? Is there enough space in her car for all the family activities she wants to do? What if she has another child?

From this, you can start using a range of marketing techniques to target these concerns right at the places she will be online.


Content Marketing

At the awareness stage, content marketing is key because it’s built on providing the customer with informative but interesting content that will answer their questions or address their pain points.

You can utilise a range of different formats such as blogs, videos, and infographics.

Here are a few examples:


  • An infographic on the Top 10 Safety Features All Family Cars Should Have
  • A fun but still informative video of how much you can fit in a crossover
  • A blog post on Things Your Kids Get Up To In The Backseat When You’re Driving
  • A comparison list of Top 10 Best Family Cars


Let’s do a quick Google search for “safety features of family cars” to see what comes up as this is likely something Anna would first search for:

automotive inbound marketing google search

Let’s take a look at what these articles offer to our potential buyer Anna.


Euro NCAP:

automotive inbound marketing

Euro NCAP provides a comparative list to get Anna thinking about what cars and features she should consider when it comes to safety. This is a more food for thought introduction into each of the best-rated family cars with some basic features rated.



automotive inbound marketing

As you can see, Kidspot is posting an article on things you should look for in a car if you want to keep your family safe. It isn’t selling any particular car, just what features you should look for because at this stage it is about helping the customer, not selling.



automotive inbound marketing4

And as you can see, Which? has provided an in-depth blog post along with videos to thoroughly explain what safety features are important for family cars. Again, still more focus on helping the user than selling a certain make or model.


Social Media

At this stage, you have to be on social media as well. You can promote your content along with other content that you think might be of use to your buyers.

Take this Facebook post for example:

automotive inbound marketing5

You can promote your own articles on your page but also promote other articles and ask other pages to promote yours. At this stage, it is more about helping your potential buyer find out more and get the best information than the hard sell, so you build trust.


The Consideration Stage

In the awareness state, your customers wanted to know about their situation and their concerns. Now they want solutions.

The awareness stage is used to educate a prospect but the consideration stage is where you show what solutions are the best and push them further along the buyer’s journey.

Anna will want to know more specific details about what solutions are available and will do more research, including reading reviews and checking comparisons. From the five decision moments we spoke about earlier, Anna will want to know: Which car is best? Is it right for me? Can I afford it?


Premium Content

Premium content is a step on from the content in the awareness stage. This content is much further along the buyer’s journey so it is more in-depth and directly tackles the buyer’s needs.

Some examples of premium content that Anna would find useful would be:


  • A more spec detailed blog on Innovative Safety Features Of The X Car
  • A Car Configurer feature so she can choose her specific requirements
  • POV driver videos
  • Independent car reviews
  • A price comparison tool


Check out some great examples of this content below.



You can see here how they are offering a much more detailed review, a star review, the price range, an option to read the full review and an option to watch a video. They also offer customer review, which is especially important as 89% of car buyers read reviews as part of their purchase journey.

automotive inbound marketing 9



Nissan allows Anna to go through several stages of configuring the car to specifically suit her needs so she knows if she can get exactly what she wants as well as what she needs without having to go in and out of different pages to find out.



This video shows a POV of the car to see exactly how it looks from the drivers perspective. This allows the potential buyers to see it in a much more real life unbiased view and helps build trust.


Targeted Ads

With the information you have hopefully gathered from your user via forms or through specific targeting to your buyer personas, you can now make targeted paid ads. Whether that be on Google Adwords, social media, retargeting or email campaigns.

Check out what Facebook Business has to say about what they have to offer to automotive sellers here.

Targeted ads are a sophisticated way of promoting your company as having exactly what the buyer is looking for. Check out our article on The Power of Ad Extensions For Automotive Companies to find out how to make the most of your paid advertising budget.


The Decision Stage

This is where they are ready to buy but need that final push to buy from you, the Where Should I Buy It? decision. In car sales, this will be the moment right before they decide that your dealership is where they will be going next.



Customer reviews are a huge factor in customer buying factors. Not only do they provide additional information that might not be provided from the seller but they also provide more social proof. With a massive 92% of consumers now reading reviews online before making a decision to purchase a product or service, they have never been as important as they are now.

Where before reviews were used to help your buyer decide which car was right for them in the consideration stage, you are now using reviews about your business to help them decide that you are the right dealer for them in the decision stage.

This means you really need to be getting company reviews from past customers, other services you work with, and anyone else that you have a positive business interaction with.


Design Elements

The design of your website has a huge effect on the user experience and therefore their entire buyer’s journey and final decision stages.

If you have all the great products, offers, and advice, but the user can’t find it easily on your site then they will go elsewhere to find their answers.

You need to have a streamlined site that looks good, is easy to navigate, and will be giving any potential buyer a great user experience. If you design your site well, it will push potential buyers through the stages to becoming a buyer at your dealership.

This step is so important that our very own senior designer, Kevin Stewart, has actually written a full blog post on it. Check it out here: How To Design An Automotive Site For Guaranteed Conversions.


Offers and USPs

This is the stage where Anna will be asking: Am I getting a deal?

If you have offers and deals make sure they are clearly visible to your buyer so they actually see the money they are saving. Here is an example of Auto Trader showing how much the buyer will save.

This is a great final push but it doesn’t have to only be about money. If you offer other services or additional add-ons — especially if they are unique from your competition — then promote that here. People love to know they are getting the best deal and are being well looked after.

For more on showcasing your offers read this blog: How To Design An Automotive Site For Guaranteed Conversions.



So there you have it. An in-depth guide into how to best use inbound marketing to help your potential buyer’s move all the way through the three stages of the buyer’s journey and straight into your dealership at the end.

If you can give your user what they want and need, when they want and need it, build trust by providing great information and providing solutions, and show them why you are the best for them, then they will be certain to think of you first when making that crucial final decision of who to buy from.

If you want to talk about your company’s goals and how to build a marketing strategy that does all of these things and more, then call us today on 0141 343 8470 to talk to an expert.


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