Among the many ways COVID-19 has changed our lives is the rapidly growing profile of the smartphone as a marketing and sales tool for the automotive industry. American consumers certainly trusted their phones long before the pandemic got their ugly heads back. In the midst of the health crisis, however, the smartphone has become an indispensable tool at a time when face-to-face interactions have become far less common and in many areas are actively discouraged by the government.
Nowadays, the phone is used to purchase necessities, gather information, virtually communicate with others through social media, and spend otherwise boring hours playing games. From a marketing perspective, all of these activities present opportunities for those involved in the sale of cars.
“I think it’s a fascinating place to look,” said Jonathan Harrop, senior director of global marketing and communications for AdColony in Dallas. “Anyone in the dealership space should definitely look back at how people search for cars on their cell phones. And if your company doesn’t see this as a viable channel for increasing sales, take another look because you might be surprised at who you can reach this way. “
AdColony is a Century City, California-based service provider that works closely with advertisers and publishers to help them maximize their smartphone campaigns and integrations. The company started out as a mobile game development house, but its market leaders quickly recognized the opportunity to advertise to gamers and other smartphone users. So it turned away from game development and towards technical service.
“On the one hand, we’re helping all of the free apps everyone is used to making money these days so they can stay free with our ad serving technology,” said Harrop. “And on the other side of this coin, we enable advertisers to reach users in these apps by placing ads. We have both the branding side, which is where the automatic side of things comes in, and the app installation side of the store. Every time you’re in a game and see an ad from another, there’s a good chance this is one of us. ”
AdColony’s recent study of consumer attitudes and behavior, Car Buying Survey 2020 (USA), details how dependent consumers have become on their smartphones when buying a car.
Rather than treating their phone as a complementary research tool, consumers rely heavily on their smartphone for all aspects of the car buying process. A large majority of respondents said they used their cell phones to search for car models and specifications (66%) and to compare prices (74%). Once they’ve narrowed the search to their top picks, they use their smartphone to find dealer locations (60%). In the 2019 survey, only 40% of respondents used their phones to find dealer locations. Last year that number rose by 20 percentage points.
“This year we kept the questions more like last year so we can actually judge how things are changing,” said Harrop. “Of course the answers for 2020 are a little different, but I believe that the shift that we have seen this year in smartphone adoption and growth in smartphone usage is not necessarily solely due to COVID-19. “
As with many others serving the digital side of the auto industry, Harrop believes Covid has accelerated pre-existing trends. Consumer behavior indicated increased smartphone use, but the pandemic put their foot on the accelerator.
“If you were on the fence about ordering groceries off your phone in late 2019, there’s a good chance you’re okay with that,” he said, “especially if you live in California or one of the hardest-hit areas. ” Conditions.”
There is no doubt that consumers are becoming increasingly used to accessing critical shopping and purchasing information on their mobile devices. And this information can come from unexpected sources, such as: B. from games for mobile devices. AdColony has achieved considerable success in this area.
“BMW has been one of our biggest customers over the years, especially internationally, working for both the main brand and the MINI,” said Harrop. “We’ve made some great creative units where, within the games themselves, users are encouraged to interact with ads for in-game rewards. Usually coins or extra lives or what do you have? “
That creates awareness and some level of branding, but the information offered to consumers can go even deeper.
“Users can tap on specific hotspots to find out more about safety features, performance features and driving with the top down. Little things like these types of plants convey the emotion of buying a car and not only give facts but also more detail than you would get from a traditional television or radio commercial or even a website because it is more interactive. “
Forward-looking marketers are also using consumers’ smartphones to amplify advertising messages delivered over the radio or television.
“A lot of people use their phones while they’re watching TV, and I say ‘watching TV’ in the broadest sense, this could be Netflix, this could be Hulu, this could be TV,” said Harrop. “So when you see a commercial on TV, a lot of people go straight to their phone. You know, let me learn more about this car or find a dealer for this car. This increase in usage is well above last year’s survey. “
The study found that consumers who research cars on their phones are likely to visit a dealer. More than two-thirds of respondents (70%) said they are very likely or likely to visit a car dealership after researching cars on their smartphones, and that number is 11% higher than last year. Of course, smartphone users are also increasingly buying a car with a phone in hand.
As more and more car buyers use their smartphones throughout the research process, AdColony sees that consumers are already using devices in the actual buying phase. Almost a quarter of those questioned in the AdColony survey said they had bought a car with their smartphone. More than a third of those surveyed stated that they were interested in online purchasing processes.
Those marketers who see a desktop experience as key to reaching online buyers could be seriously mistaken. The telephone, rather than the computer, is increasingly the most important purchasing and purchasing instrument of choice.
“The younger people are, the more they see a tablet and a phone as all they need,” said Harrop. “And when they have a computer they tend to have that separation. Now that a lot of people are working from home, they use their computer for work and when they finish work they just say, okay, I won’t touch my computer. “
But her phone is her lifeline, the heartbeat of her existence. From vehicle research to price purchases to dealer selection, Americans turn to their smartphones to guide the buying process. And on the lease edge, more consumers than ever are using their phones to buy a car and schedule delivery. Not only can you research and buy a car from your couch in your pajamas, but now you can buy a car from a phone app, just like ordering a specialty drink from Coffee Bean.
Jack R. Nerad has covered the auto trade and the broader automotive industry in a number of prestigious editorial articles for more than three decades. For over a dozen years, he was the Executive Editorial Director of Kelley Blue Book / KBB.com, where he turned kbb.com from being a used car price look-up site to one of the most-visited auto research sites in the world, as well as being editor of the Motor Trend Magazins, Director of Publications at JD Power and editor of the dealer publication Automotive Age.
For two decades he has hosted “America on the Road”, the country’s most widespread automobile-oriented radio program. In the 1990s he was a pioneer in the automotive industry in cable television as the presenter of “Motor Trend TV”.
A recognized expert in the auto industry, Nerad has appeared on virtually all major news networks and news programs, including The Today Show, CBS This Morning, Fox and Friends, and Good Morning America.
He is the author of several books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide for Hybrid and Alternative Fuel Vehicles and The Complete Idiot’s Guide for Buying or Leasing a Car. His latest book on successful management and customer relationships is The GR Factor. Nerad is currently the Chief Content Officer / Editor of Driving Today (drivetoday.com) and contributes to a number of news sites including forbes.com.