Americans are Getting Pickier About Upgrading to New Vehicles. Here’s How to Market to Them.

Americans are Getting Pickier About Upgrading to New Vehicles. Here’s How to Market to Them.

Despite turbulent prices for both new and used vehicles, people are still buying them. They’re just taking longer to choose those vehicles.

So what can automotive dealership marketers do?

Here are our best tips and tricks to capture attention with relevant content for your most valuable automotive leads.

A Lot Can (or Can’t) Happen in 90 Days.

Because of rising interest rates and weakening consumer confidence, an American takes anywhere from three hours to several months to find and decide to buy a vehicle.

This apparent demotivation and lack of decision makes marketers like us very anxious. If your job is to nurture leads through monthly ad campaigns, marketing emails and other popular digital activities, how in the heck are we supposed to stay top-of-mind for so long?

In our work with auto dealers throughout the U.S., we’ve used impartial attribution software to measure the length between the first visit to a dealer’s website and the date of purchase.

Through that process, our team found that the average length of time to sale is now around 90 days. Previously, the path to purchase was believed to have taken around 28 days.

This three-fold increase means that dealers need to compete more for top-of-mind awareness, and also tailor their message to show the right vehicles to more discerning shoppers.

What exactly are shoppers doing in those 90 days? Well, as much as I hate to say it, they’re not spending three months thinking about you.

While the path to purchase might seem like a logical straight line to us marketers, it’s more like a hairball filled with small moments where people might be considering their next vehicle’s:

  • Price
  • Technology
  • Size
  • Color
  • Performance
  • Availability

In these cases where shoppers are being pickier, availability itself is a factor, but it is ranked below almost everything else. However, there are times when simple availability can make a sale.

Are They Upgrading or Replacing?

Not everyone has the privilege of shopping slowly.

When I was 19, I totaled my 1994 Ford Explorer by skidding on some unexpected washboard gravel and rolling over in the ditch here in South Dakota. Luckily, I was fine, but I wasn’t ready to deal with the grief of losing my beloved first vehicle — nor the headaches of finding my next one.

I didn’t have the means to wait 90 days kicking tires and weighing options. I just needed to find my next budget used vehicle.


In this context, the taglines from OEMs (“Built Ford Tough”) and the nonsense of comparing trivial features between competing SUVs were sickening. They were emboldening for the discerning new vehicle shopper, but entirely irrelevant for a college kid on the verge of a mental breakdown.

Dealerships hadn’t done anything previously to earn my trust, let alone my business. I only knew that my local used lot had two or maybe three SUVs that could replace my Explorer.

At that moment, I just needed to know what was locally available. (For dealerships, this is where local SEO is especially helpful.)

The key to any effective digital marketing strategy is relevance. If shouting your “Built Ford Tough” message from the rooftops is not helpful to shoppers, then you’re not going to reach your dealership’s KPIs. And by not focusing on the “pinch” aspect of the used vehicle market, dealerships can lose out on helping people like 19-year-old me.

This motivating “pinch” happens for other reasons, too. Consider the high school graduate, the new parents, the lucky person who just got a new job, or the unlucky sap who gets caught in a flood.

These people are likely not going to take 90 days to decide on a vehicle, and your ads and emails can adapt by making your inventory more upfront and more relevant.

In these more urgent cases, a dealership needs to be ready. Inventory. Pricing. Availability. These are the leading factors that might take precedence over the top-of-the-funnel branding factors which would be more helpful for those pickier 90-day shoppers.

Build an Accommodating Strategy.

Two key takeaways from our insight into the lengthening buyer’s journey:

  1. Most of us can agree that — especially after the pandemic — Americans have shortening attention spans.
  2. The always unpredictable path to purchase has never been more varied in terms of consumer circumstances and timelines.

Your dealership’s digital advertising needs to adapt to the circumstances of the shopper.

On average, these shoppers are more apprehensive — but some are more motivated. Everyone shops at different paces, and the linear marketing funnel we’ve often used is not as orderly nor as reliable as we expect.

We can only do the best with what we have at our fingertips: Data. Ads. Email. Content.

Considerations for Data

Use your CRM to your advantage in ad targeting, email targeting, and measurement.

While we can’t predict how long a lead will take to find and buy their next vehicle, we can learn from history and try to improve up on it.

When you look at your dealership’s CRM, how many vehicle leads do you have from the last 90 days? How many sales did you have? By dividing the first by the second, you now have a baseline closing ratio with which to compare your digital effectiveness next quarter.

Data is also incredibly powerful for personalization on every platform — including the in-person experience. Whether it’s been a few days or a few years, a customer will always be more delighted if you can remember what brought them to your store in the first place.

Consideration for Digital Ads

Cars get clicks. That’s the rule of thumb when it comes to dealership ads.

That doesn’t mean that your brand promises, your financing options or your lovely staff have to take a back seat to the inventory. When it comes to attention, your leads will arrive for the cars and stay for the delightful service that you love to brag about.

No matter which platform you run ads on, make sure that people know how and why your dealership is different, and try to remind them periodically why people love you before 90 days are up.

Considerations for Email Marketing

When it comes to nurturing a flighty or indecisive lead, email is the queen.

Not only does email return 4x the value of digital ads, but it also helps digital ad targeting.

Also, email is a long-term relationship builder where you get to say exactly what you want to say within a person’s most sanctified spaces: their inbox!

The fleeting attention of the indecisive and picky is no match for the personalization that can happen within the inbox. Every email — automated or not — can be relevant to the recipient’s needs and interests.

Prepare for people and their vehicle decisions.

Price fluctuations, availability and location all play a big factor in determining how long people take to buy their cars. While you may not be able to know exactly when your audience goes “in-market” for their vehicle, you can know how to reach them with the right message.

If you need help with any of these tactics, take a look at 9 Clouds. Dealerships throughout North America rely on us for integrated digital ads, smart email marketing, lead tracking and powerful search engine optimization (SEO).

When you’re ready for online help, contact us for a custom digital marketing proposal.

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