Auto Industry Trends 2017 – UK…

Auto Industry Trends 2017 – UK Market

A Digital Marketing Perspective: Innovative strategies for segmenting and targeting auto audiences

2017 has seen mixed results for the automotive industry in the UK. Manufacturers and dealers are dealing with a weakening pound and declining consumer confidence, coupled with changing customer preferences and policies.

According to SMMT 2017, this has compounded into the following market shifts:

New car sales have cooled down after 5 years of strong growth, with Q2 seeing the largest quarterly fall in more than 6 years of 10.3%.

In contrast, used car sales have risen steadily by 3.4% over Q1, and expected to take share from new car sales over the second
half of the year.

Coupled with the government’s decision to ban diesel vehicles by 2040 and growing health concerns, diesel car sales have dipped by 15% in June.

Consumers, instead, are rapidly adopting environmental and efficient vehicle options, with electric and hybrid car registrations increasing by over 30% in June year-on-year.

Consumers have also become highly sophisticated with their research and buying cycles. According to Luth Research, a typical car buyer has 900 digital interactions over three months before purchase.

In order to target these evolving channels, marketers are shifting away from traditional mediums (with the exception of TV), and investing more in targeted digital advertising and search marketing strategies.

Marketers in the automotive industry are now faced with the following challenges:
– Determining which channels reap the highest ROI for brand building and targeting
– Segmenting audiences with precision at the various stages of the customer’s journey
– Transforming online prospects into offline buyers through targeted and trackable means

In this report, we look at key tactics for manufacturers to identify and target high prospect audiences online.
In particular, what steps a manufacturer can take to optimise the customer’s journey through their awareness, consideration and decision making stages.

1. Capitalizing on Online Buzz

The Tesla Effect: How the Model 3 has Impacted the Electric Vehicle Market

Automotive is well known for its long purchase cycles, so it’s paramount for a brand to stay top of mind. Brand building efforts are typically done through outbound marketing, like TV and sponsorships, which can be costly and difficult to track. In this section, we detail another approach for brands – through search and content optimisation.


Tesla’s Model 3 vs. Competitors: What Has Happened Online?

The Model 3, Tesla’s first mass-market and cheapest car to date at $35,000, has attracted a lot of media attention. Searches for the Model 3 have risen by 345% from the start to the end of July, as a result of two key announcements:
– 7th July: The first Model 3 rolled off Tesla’s production line, and
– 28th July: Tesla hosted a “handover party” for the first 30 cars.

Whilst the recent hype has brought a lot of attention for Tesla, the Electric Vehicle (EV) industry has actually benefited as a whole, with searches for “electric cars” rising in tandem by 346%, over the same time period.

UK Auto Report: Searches for Electric Vehicles
Source: Hitwise 2017. The above chart includes search variations of each model.

In addition, searches for other key EV competitors have surged, such as: BMW i3 (+164%), Nissan Leaf (+125%), Renault Zoe (+125%) and Hyundai Ioniq (+106%).

Media has further capitalised on the recent EV buzz. Top sites, such as Auto Express, have seen a 162% rise in articles around “best electric cars”, as opposed to articles solely focused on Tesla Model 3. In the week ending 29th July, articles on electric and hybrid cars had captured 3 out of the top 5 articles on their site.

UK Auto Report: Top Articles on Auto Express
Source: Hitwise 2017. Chart includes article share on autoexpress.co.uk

Downstream traffic from search also shows a significant contrast between Tesla and other EV players. In the week ending 29th July, Tesla had a higher share of searches going to media outlets (like The Verge, Alphr and Electrek), whereas, competitors had a higher proportion going directly to their site, or dealerships and classifieds.

UK Auto Report: Downstream Sites
Source: Hitwise 2017. Downstream traffic from the above searches, in the week ending 29/07/2017.

This implies that whilst audiences of Tesla may be more interested in news hype, audiences of BMW or Nissan could be demonstrating higher intent. In the next chapter, we detail how a manufacturer can then dissect these audiences, in order to identify genuine prospects.

Top Takeaway
Keep a close eye on search trends and terms going to your industry. Capitalise on growing interest. Identify spikes in searches, profile who have shown this interest and where they go online after search.

2. Segmenting Online Audiences

Audi Spotlight: One Brand, Many Audiences

A key requirement for any online strategy is to differentiate aspirational and genuine buyers of a brand. In particular, the ability to identify and track audiences that have demonstrated high intent, such as: people who have searched for a specific dealer, or have booked a test drive. The ability to do so is critical for any targeting strategy. Our analysis shows that even within a single brand, audiences largely differ depending on their intent touch points and interactions on a manufacturer’s or dealer’s site.


Audi Spotlight: Differentiating Segments by Model and Intent

Audi has received over 370,000 unique users to their website in the past 8 weeks*. These users are a combination of different profiles, depending on their model interests, needs and buying intent.

For instance, Audi’s A3 compact audience significantly differs from their TT sports coupe audience. A3 attracts a more female, older and higher income segment, compared to TT which attracts a higher share of male, younger and aspirational segment.

UK Auto Report: Audi Audience
*Source: Hitwise 2017. Period: 8 weeks to 22/07/2017. Audiences build on searches and visits to Audi’s A3 and TT pages.

Audi’s audiences further differ by online touchpoint. This is shown on the following chart for the below listed actions:
– Audiences that have requested an Audi Brochure
– Audiences that have visited or searched for Audi Used Cars
– Audiences that have visited or searched for an Audi Dealership.

People who request a brochure tend to be younger, based in London and visit other manufacturer sites. Used Car audiences are older and search for other manufacturers’ used vehicles.

UK Auto Report: Audi Audience by Touchpoints
Source: Hitwise 2017. Period: 8 weeks ending 22/07/2017. Audiences built on visits and searches to Audi’s brochure, used car and dealership pages.

In comparison, audiences interested in Audi dealerships have the highest household income and visit specialised dealership sites dedicated to high-end car brands.

A manufacturer like Audi could utilise these insights to know: what types of info each segment is searching for and understand where they go online to inform content and display, which we will detail in the next chapter.

Top Takeaway
Segment your online audience based on their model interests and buying intent. Identify your “real” prospects using online behaviour, such as visits to dealership or “book a test drive” pages.

3. Activating High Prospect Audiences

BMW’s Two -Tiered Approach: Re-targeting and Competitor Conquesting

Let’s revisit our example from Chapter 1 where we saw an uplift in the Electric Car market. People searching for electric cars have grown by an incredible 108% in July, compared to the previous month.


The hype around the Model 3 saw Tesla’s audience size rise by 162%. This buzz also had a positive impact on other manufacturers, such as BMW i3 increasing by 38%.

UK Auto Report: Audience Size
Source: Hitwise 2017. Dates: May = 4 weeks ending 03-06, June = 4 weeks ending 01-07, July = 4 week ending 29-07. Audience sizes are based on searches. Electric Cars includes variations of “electric cars” and top 10 EV models according to Carbuyer & AutoExpress.

So, how can a manufacturer sustain this interest and guide people along their purchase cycle?

An effective way to do so is through targeted display – by transforming audience insights into audience activation.

Who was Behind BMW’s and Tesla’s Growth?

For BMW and Tesla, July’s growth came from varying audiences. BMW i3 saw a spike in younger and female audiences, compared to older and male audiences for Tesla.

UK Auto Replort: BWM and Tesla
Source: Hitwise 2017. June = 4 weeks ending 01-07, July = 4 week ending 29-07. Audiences are based on searches to specific models.

Both auto manufacturers had attracted a significant rise in affluent audiences with high household incomes.

Using Audience Insights to Activate BMW’s Prospects

What can BMW do to capitalise on rising interest in their i3 model? Taking into account the growth from higher household incomes (on the previous page), BMW could deploy the following two-tiered activation approach:
– Retarget affluent audiences searching for the BMW i3, and
– Conquest affluent audiences that have shown interest in Tesla (but not BMW).

To do so, a deep understanding of the target audience’s interests and online behaviour is required.

For instance, the below chart shows that the affluent BMW i3 audience is more likely to search for used cars, prices and specs of competitor brands. They are also more likely to spend their time on news sites, such as The Independent and Forbes.

UK Auto Report: BWM Audiences to Retarget
Source: Hitwise 2017. Period: 4 weeks ending 29-Jul-2017.

Whereas, Tesla’s affluent audience (who are not searching for BMW i3) are interested in formula 1 and luxury cars like Aston Martin. In contrast, Tesla’s audience are more likely to visit media sites like TechRadar.

UK Auto Report: Tesla Audiences to Conquest
Source: Hitwise 2017. Period: 4 weeks ending 29-Jul-2017.

BMW can then use these insights to inform the “what” and “where” of their ad campaigns.

Over-indexed search terms can feed directly into their creative, such as showcasing the i3’s unique features in a re-targeting campaign, or emphasising luxury and class in a conquesting campaign for Tesla. Over-indexed sites can also be used to create whitelists or develop partnership opportunities with the likes of The Independent and TechRadar.

Top Takeaway
Arm your display campaigns with actionable insights. Go beyond demographics by understanding your target’s unique interests and behaviours. Feed these insights into the full design and execution of display, including the “what” and where” to feature ads.

Key Takeaways


Keep a close watch on online buzz around the electric and hybrid market – identify opportunities to cultivate interest with early buyers

Segment your online audience based on their brand preferences, model interests and buying intent

Identify genuine prospects by marrying demographics with online touchpoints, such as household income and visits to a dealership page

Arm your content and display campaigns with actionable insights – know who your target audience is, what are their unique interests and where they go online

Feed these insights into the full design and execution of your display campaigns, such as using search to inform messaging and visuals, and utilising over-indexed sites to build whitelists