Not all target audiences are created equal

Consumers planning to make large-ticket purchases are active on a variety of digital channels as they make their way through the purchase funnel. The media usage habits and preferences of intended audiences must inform marketers’ decisions about where to target them, and whether social media efforts make sense for their brand.

The US automotive industry provides an example of brand-to-brand differences. As part of the industry’s continued push into online marketing, vehicle manufacturers and dealers are evaluating a gamut of digital options and attempting to select tactics that will most influence potential buyers. Social media is often part of this consideration set. But while social media has successfully driven several recent high-profile auto campaigns, research indicates that it may be more effective for certain brands over others.

An October study of more than 65,000 US consumers by The Media Audit found that Audi, Infiniti and Saab owners were the most likely to have recently used popular social networks, while owners of Buick, Cadillac and Lincoln/Mercury were less frequent participants.

US Social Media Users*, by Brand of Car Owned, Oct 2010 (% of respondents)

Research into the influence of various media on large-ticket purchases by S. Radoff Associates found that overall, 21% of vehicle purchasers reported being influenced by some form of social media. The study also revealed differences in the influence of online ratings and reviews by brand owned. Ford owners were more likely to be influenced by online reviews and earned media than Chevy or Toyota owners, while Chevy owners put more stock in paid media than those who bought the other brands. For their part, Toyota purchasers were more influenced by coupons and discounts than those who bought Fords or Chevys.

Information Sources Used to Make Select Auto Purchase Decisions According to US Internet Users, by Brand, June 2010 (% of respondents)

Ford Motor Co. appears to be keenly aware of such differences in the use of participatory media by owners of its different brands. Though the company has been aggressively spending on digital and social media to promote Ford brand vehicles such as the Fiesta, Jim Farley, the company’s group VP of global marketing, recently said it is pursuing an “experiential” marketing focus for the Lincoln nameplate. This includes giving Lincoln’s upscale consumers the ability to touch and drive the cars at selected venues.

“It’s pretty clear that Lincoln is going to require a pretty different strategy in marketing,” Farley told Automotive News. “Social media has allowed us to break a lot of myths. But luxury customers need to know more than something they read on Facebook.”

Other brand marketers must keep in mind their target audience and avoid splashy marketing campaigns that are cutting-edge but fail to speak to their core customers. Social media makes sense for many marketers, but the brand values of others may require a different approach.

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