How Social Media Is Changing the Way Consumers Shop for Cars

Social advertisements are a digital marketing strategy that auto dealers, or any sellers of large-scale products, must master.

Can you imagine finding your next car on Facebook? If you can’t, it might come as a surprise that nearly a quarter of prospective car buyers use Facebook to conduct research before an auto purchase. While social media networks may seem like a strange place to explore such an important decision, today’s consumers prove that car shopping is becoming a more social experience.

While social media began as a network to stay in touch with others, it’s quickly evolved into a channel for commerce. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow marketers to meet shoppers where they are already frequently active, all the while crafting personalized advertisements that often resonate better than traditional outreach.  Brands and retailers have used social for years now to connect with and convert shoppers. Thankfully, sites like Facebook are making it easier for automotive dealers to reach at-market shoppers.

Although a car is a major lifetime investment—requiring more time and research than the typical online purchase—auto marketers can still leverage social media to drive shoppers toward sales. On these networks, dealers can craft digital campaigns with greater sophistication than typical retargeted ads. For today’s brands, social advertisements are truly as impactful as other marketing efforts—no matter the product.

Still not convinced? Here are three of social advertising’s most useful benefits, as told through the auto industry:

1. Social Is Persistent

Even after browsing for a car online, shoppers will rarely buy a vehicle without giving it more thought or doing more research. A decision to purchase a car or any other lifetime product is almost never a spontaneous one, which is why auto marketers should be using social to keep their products top of mind for consumers as they conduct research over time.

For instance, dealers can use Facebook ads to continue to pique shoppers’ interest. After a car shopper has browsed a dealer’s vehicle details page and found the right model for him—perhaps a blue Chevy Equinox—it’s likely he’ll leave the site to sleep on the decision and compare prices elsewhere. However, when he wakes up in the morning and logs onto Facebook (35 percent of iPhone and Android users in the U.S. check mobile apps before getting out of bed), he’s met with an in-feed ad for the make and model he was looking at the day before. From the color to the price, the advertisement is personalized to his exact preferences.

While the shopper in this scenario may not immediately return to the dealer’s page, auto marketers can re-engage him with targeted social advertisements. Facebook is a network where shoppers already spend a great deal of time, and it’s a modern marketing channel that allows dealers to extend customer relationships beyond initial contact. With News Feed advertisements, auto companies can stay on shoppers’ radars and encourage at-market car buyers toward physical dealerships for final purchase.

2. Social Is Mobile

One unique characteristic of social media is its mobile applications. Almost every social network has a corresponding mobile app, which users can turn to at any time of the day from anywhere. Not surprisingly, as mobile grows, shoppers are increasingly comfortable researching and making purchasing from their mobile devices.

In fact, 71 percent of consumers use mobile at some point during the car purchasing process. Similarly, almost half of “mobile-first” auto consumers, or shoppers who turn to mobile at their first research network, are millennials who average 26 hours per month on Facebook’s mobile app. Advertising on social media gives auto marketers the ability to leverage this growing network.

Buying a car—from research to test drive—is a highly social experience, and mobile can help brands harness this social energy. Whether it’s conducting research or getting purchasing advice from friends and family, mobile allows at-market shopper to further their buyer’s journey, even when on the go. Consumers will ultimately make car purchases in person (at least for now), but a blend of social and mobile marketing techniques can help get them to the lot. For example, if an on-the-go mobile user sees that their Facebook friend has liked an ad for a certain car, they may then stop by a dealership on their commute home to see the model for themselves.

3. Social Is Personal

Finally, social networks are of great value to marketers because they allow brands to deploy highly-personalized advertisements. Today’s shoppers do not have the patience for broad, top-funnel information and will tune out ads for irrelevant products, no matter the industry. Auto marketers in particular, as well as any sellers of lifetime purchases, must avoid generic advertisements.

Thankfully, as dealers learn more about shoppers and the makes and models they prefer, it’s easy for auto marketers to reflect this information in content like Facebook ads. For example, if a shopper has been researching black Toyota Camrys on a dealer’s site, but then receives a Facebook ad for just Toyota, this does little to extend the shopping experience and push her toward purchase. In order to truly engage the shopper and make the most of social ROI, dealers have to personalize the advertisements she sees down to the make, model and other key vehicle details. Only then will social ads serve as the helpful sales reminder marketers need them to be.

Social advertisements are a digital marketing strategy that auto dealers, or any sellers of large-scale products, must master. Social—whether due to its persistence, mobile capabilities or personalization opportunities — can influence purchases in powerful ways. Retargeted Facebook ads are already standard for items like clothing and electronics, and in 2016, they must become commonplace for bigger purchases, too.

Jeremy Anspach is the CEO of PureCars.