Over the years I’ve come across car dealerships who believe that car sales occur on social media, is this true? Car buyers could buy cars on social media in some instances but I’m not convinced. What is social media? I believe there’s no such thing as social media – it’s a term that society has coined for various social platforms. They are just “platforms” on the internet that people go to consume different kinds of content.

Just as Google is a search platform, YouTube is a platform too, like Facebook, Instagram, AutoTrader, etc. Social media are some words somebody made up somewhere, originating from when Facebook first started with social forums. Social media became acceptable and now has landed a place in the dictionary.

So the question still remains; why do car buyers use or consult social media? Can car dealerships sell cars on social media?

Car buyers consult social media for credibility

In 2018, 22% of consumers consulted social media before buying a car. But what do car buyers consult social media for? Cars or car dealerships? It’s not to search for a car brand. Car buyers don’t go and search for cars on social media, they go and search for the credibility of the entity or person or car dealership they are buying from. They are also consulting social media to try and build trust around that car dealership or around that seller of the car, they are buying from. Asking themselves, and even checking what other people have said about the car dealership.

Google South Africa, tells us that 60% of car buyers watch videos on YouTube before taking the actions that lead them to buy a car. So YouTube is where they review different kinds of car videos, and it’s through the reviews that they try to answer their car buying questions or answer their questions around the car dealership credibility.

Car buyers can remain anonymous on social media

Anonymity at this stage still plays a major part in the car buying journey with car buyers not wanting to go and ask car dealerships more about the car they are interested in. Car buying consumers would prefer to go to YouTube to ask their question rather than to the car dealership. It helps the car buyer to stay anonymous while still deciding. It stops them from getting spammed.

Consumers will want to see who a specific car dealership is on social media. Has the car dealership got any bad reviews? Am I going to buy lemon from them? Is the car dealership going to give me a good service? 22% of consumers consult social media before buying, but not for the car, for the car dealer.

Internet transparency and anonymity has created or aided a non linear car buying journey. There’s no defined “start”, most of the time at the beginning of the funnel, consumers will Google something that helps solve a problem.

There are so many subsets of the way car buyers search for cars and go on their car buying journey. According to Google, there are 26 touch points in the car buying journey, 21 of them are digital, which means, 21 of them are more than likely anonymous. Car buyers bounce around between the touch points.

About 1/3 of car buying consumers search for cars by make, model and price on AutoTrader.

The second biggest way in which consumers search for cars on AutoTrader is by body-type, which is SUV sedan and it’s all in the latest AutoTrader Car Industry report.

After a search, they consult social media on the car dealership

Once a car buyer creates a shortlist or is interested in a car from a car dealership. They again consult social media on the credibility of the car dealership.

How car buyers ultimately make decisions

Once all the research has been done, how do car buyers ultimately make car buying decisions? Decisions are mainly based on significant life events, influenced by:

  • advert creative and
  • the frequency of marketing and advertising of car dealerships

The intersection of a “life event” with car dealership “marketing & advertising” creates the biggest opportunity to influence the car buyer to choose a particular car from a car dealership.

There is a clear distinction between marketing and advertising though. Advertising tries to sell a car to a car buyer.

Marketing on the other hand doesn’t try to sell cars. Putting a car advert in front of a car buyer at the wrong moment will not sell the car. The consumer is not going to listen, because it becomes noise. Car dealerships need to solve consumers’ problems, market their brands and sell using advertising.

Example: If a car buyer has just had a baby or about to have a baby (life event). The ideal would be to place a piece of creative together that solves that car buyers “problem” for a baby seat. Perhaps the messaging could include information that shows the fact that bending over in a sedan is not ideal and with an SUV you may experience less back pain when putting a child into a car seat.

Along with the creative above goes marketing frequency, how many times you get in front of the consumer. Ultimately, if you’re not in the consumer’s face all the time through all stages, they are less likely to consider you in their car buying journey. It’s not enough to just market or advertise “when the customer is ready”, they may have chosen another car dealership already.

Car dealers should influence the car buying consumer

Car buyers normally go through 3 phases on AutoTrader ahead of them making a decision on which car they will buy and it’s in these phases that car dealers can influence the car buyer during their car buying journey.

The first part is when a car buyer performs a search – Consumer Consideration. The second part of this is the journey is when the car buyer clicks on a car in the search list on their journey to buying a car we call this – Consumer Demand. The third part of the journey is enquiring from a car dealer and actually – Buying the car.

If we look at consumer consideration for BMW, most searched for car. Volkswagen is the second most searched for car, not very far behind each other with 20 million searches versus 19 million searches. Mercedes-Benz is at 18.6 million searches in terms of consideration.

If we look at consumer demand however, BMW is still on the top of the list. Mercedes-Benz is now above Volkswagen and Volkswagen has gone to fourth.

When we look into actual car sales however, Volkswagen is the most sold car.

Besides the aspirational element of BMW, the important part is influence-ability. The ability to influence the consumer occurs along this journey around what they see, its frequency, quality of the creative to build trust in the dealership which leads to the trust in the car brand and then ultimately the car.

Influence changes the journey and what the car buyer actually ends up buying.