The modern car buyer Download report

Nearly a quarter of the global online population are thinking about purchasing a car in the next 3 to 6 months.

With this stat alone, you wouldn’t think the automotive industry was facing a crisis. 

But the truth is, demand for new cars is declining rapidly, meaning the fight for market share becomes all the more competitive, and that remaining quarter all the more coveted.

Our latest report looks in detail at the modern car buyer to answer key questions in the automotive industry, such as: 

  • Who is today’s car buyer?
  • What is the buyer journey in the UK and U.S.?
  • How do you increase dealership footfall?
  • How do you encourage peer-to-peer recommendations? 

Using the insights from our report, we shine a spotlight on the modern car buyer’s behavior and psychographics to help automotive brands get a foothold in this rapidly evolving and turbulent industry. 

We start by profiling car buyers, moving onto their media consumption habits and purchase journey before bringing it together into actionable points for your targeting strategy.

Profiling the car buyer

They’re married, affluent and cosmopolitan. 

  • They’re 27% more likely than the average consumer to be in the top 25% income bracket 
  • 84% own at least one car already
  • They’re typically in their early 30s and married
  • They have at least one child (56%)

Car buyers are 40% more likely than average to fall into our cosmopolitan attitudinal segment. This means they like to explore the world around them, be surrounded by different people, cultures, ideas and lifestyles, and are interested in other cultures and countries. 

They’re heavy consumers of both traditional and digital media.

  • They’re a digitally-savvy, mobile-first group.
  • They spend an average of 13 hours 9 minutes on different kinds of media every day.
  • Nearly 9 in 10 car buyers are watching linear TV at least once a week.
  • They spend an average of 2 hours 49 minutes on social media, spread across some 12 platforms.

We know they’re digitally-savvy, socially engaged (online and offline) with wider interests in travel and the experiences that come with it.

The next stage involves identifying the key touchpoints to put this demographic information into action. 

The car buyer’s purchase journey

1. Car discovery

The first step in any marketing funnel is awareness, and for car buyers, traditional TV advertising has always been a dominant player.

In a special survey we did in September 2019, we found that TV ads are the most powerful source of brand discovery for car buyers in the U.S. and the UK. 

This is especially the case for those in the U.S. which is unsurprising given that car buyers here spend around 1 hour 13 minutes longer than the global average watching TV every day. 

Despite over half of all car buyers globally using ad-blockers each month, online and social media car ads are still the second and third-most prominent brand discovery channels in the U.S. and UK. 

The channels through which this audience comes across car-related content or ads also vary by age. Digital sources like blogs and vlogs are much more influential among younger cohorts, while traditional sources like newspaper articles work better for those aged 55-64. 

Although TV ads remain the most powerful means of car brand discovery, a spread of digital and traditional media is needed to maximize exposure.

2. Car research

Once discovered, the next stage of the car buyer’s journey is research. Like discovery, this stage is often silent, with consumers actively searching for a balance of branded content and third-party reviews across a number of channels. 

For high value purchases like cars, the purchase journey is a far more detailed and enduring process than for smaller purchases, making the research phase more important. 

Once car buyers have discovered the car and start looking for more information about it, they’re most likely to go to the manufacturer’s website (50% say this). 

This is not the case in the UK though, where this audience is more likely to turn to a trusted peer opinion by reading consumer reviews (41%). 

With an important purchase like a car, requiring a commitment and a large expense, buyers in the UK tend to value the opinion of fellow buyers more than information from the brand itself. 

Positive reputation online is therefore paramount in order to move car buyers further down the path to purchase. 

In the U.S., they’re more likely to look for information on manufacturers’ own platforms or specialist magazines. For example, 29% of car buyers in the U.S. turn to the manufacturer’s social media page, compared to 18% in the UK. 

It’s best to ensure a strong spread of detailed, consumable information across relevant digital channels, bearing in mind the different devices and sources used by different regions and age groups. 

3. Point of purchase

Although digital channels are an important part of car discovery and research, they fall somewhat short when it comes to the point of purchase. But this is to be expected with a high value purchase. 

Here are the top purchase drivers:

  • Free servicing 
  • Long warranty 
  • 0% interest monthly payments 
  • Part-exchange for my old car 
  • Zero emission car tax rebate 
  • Free Limited Insurance 
  • Free delivery of my new car

When buying a car, most consumers in the U.S. and UK would first consider going to a brand specific dealership. The suggestion here is that buyers are most likely seeking the expertise of sales people who can help.

Making such a high-ticket purchase means this group want the opportunity to meet experts who can help them find a vehicle which is perfect for their needs. 

The try-before-you-buy appealing aspect of dealership, allowing buyers to test drive different cars.

Gender differences when purchasing

It’s at the point of purchase we start to see gender differences enter the equation.

Buying from an auto sales website is still a likely outcome for 48% of this audience and it’s especially prominent among men. 

Women are much more likely than men to go to a local multi-brand second-hand dealership and to buy from family and friends. 

This suggests that they are more practical and focused on utility than men and don’t necessarily have a specific brand in mind when shopping for a vehicle. The factors influencing them to buy a car in the first place reflect that too.

Compared to men, women are more likely to want value for money, safety and a suitable size for their needs. Other features like the look of the car, the brand name and whether the car is environmentally efficient carry more weight among men. 

4. Brand advocacy

What turns your target persona into an advocate? 

We know that recommendation is important, and a brand’s positive reputation among the market is paramount for driving sales. 

Here are the main elements that contribute to peer-to-peer recommendation: 

  1. High-quality products 
  2. Financial rewards 
  3. Love for the brand (especially among younger buyers)
  4. Great customer services (especially among older buyers)

Car buyers have a set of clearly defined purchase drivers and advocacy factors which should be brought into content to push prospects over the line to purchase. 

It’s important to note that men and women look for different features from their cars, and seek out different places to make the final purchase.  

Bringing the insights together

With all this information at your fingertips, it’s possible to build out a detailed car buyers persona and craft an efficient and rewarding purchase journey. 

We know this group is young, affluent, cosmopolitan, often married, and have at least one child.

They also consume various types of media across numerous channels.

Getting the right balance of social and online content will be advantageous, especially in the awareness and research phases – taking care to translate key purchase drivers through messaging.

Although most content among this group is viewed via smartphones, a mobile-only strategy shouldn’t yet be the default with this audience, because TV remains dominant in their lives, and TV ads are still a prominent means of discovery.

Once the right awareness, research and consideration content is put in place, auto brands can expect an increase in brand affinity in the early stage of the purchase journey, leading to greater footfall in showrooms.

But effective marketing can only get you so far. 

In order to cultivate the right reputation, the products must meet the standard of quality expected by the buyer to nurture advocacy. Coupling that with specific financial incentives will drive your potential buyer purchase. 

Click to access out modern car buyers report

You’ve read our blog, now see our platform

Every business has questions about its audiences, GWI has answers. Powered by consistent, global research, our platform is an on-demand window into their world.