Study: Automakers Off-Target With Web Efforts

Automobile manufactures are largely striking out when it comes to marketing their products online, according to a new study from Accenture and Online Insight.

At the center of the report is a finding that the online experience for car shoppers is less than satisfying, thanks to usability problems with manufacturers’ Web sites. Indeed, only a fifth of the 1,000 consumers polled in the study reported being “very satisfied” with automaker Web sites. About 48 percent, however, reported being “neutral/dissatisfied” with them.

Causes for this include some fundamental misconceptions about how potential buyers use the Internet. For one thing — they’re not actually planning to make a buy immediately. Instead, 56 percent of consumers said they use the Web to gather information before making a car buying decision. However, manufacturers’ Web sites often don’t take this into consideration, making product information difficult to access.

Additionally, online consumers prefer simple Web sites, with easy access to information — rather than an immersive, interactive experience. Thirty-five percent seek product updates, while only 13 percent want features like service reminders. Additionally, consumers ranked personalization as their least valued aspect of a automaker Web site

As a result, manufacturers are effectively missing out on using the Web to make a sale.

“It’s clear that, based on these findings, [manufacturers] should reconsider their approach to reaching consumers via the Web,” said John Cunningham, who is a partner in Accenture’s automotive industry group. “No one can accuse the auto industry of sitting on its hands during the dot-com craze, but the return on investment has not been what they expected.”

To overcome the hurdles, Cunningham prescribes a remedy that includes integration of online and offline marketing channels. Rather than undertaking Web initiatives purely for their own sake, manufacturers ought to use the Web as an information tool that ultimately drives prospective customers to a local dealer — where they form their most important brand impressions and make purchase decisions.

Also, automakers should be using the Web to collect consumer data and boost their market research.

“They need to build informative, easy-to-use sites and forego costly investments in one-click auto shopping. And their sites don’t have to offer every visual effect that technology makes possible. When it comes to online marketing initiatives, [automakers] need to shift their focus to what consumers really want — and away from what the industry thinks they want.”

Additionally, Cunningham suggested that companies take a good look at their marketing budgets — and trim the fat from any unnecessary Web projects.

“What matters now is that auto makers redirect their investments from unpromising to rewarding applications and rebuild strong brands,” he said.

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