Driving change: Owning the moments that matter as Aussies restart their engines

News Corp Australia's The Growth D_Stillery recently conducted research on the automotive sector, and how buyers are reacting. Ciel Graham, research director, delves into the forces behind the profound changes occurring in auto, emphasising the significance of marketers tapping into the 'moments that matter' for car enthusiasts.

You’re likely fatigued from the cycle of industry conversation this year – cost of living, resource shortages, ongoing pandemic recovery. But for the automotive sector, 2023/4 is an entirely different destination, where the past three years have witnessed significant destabilisation, and we are observing a critical inflection point.

We have seen rapid technological innovation; the rise of Electric Vehicles (EVs), self-driving automation, and increased interconnectivity within new vehicles. Labour shortages exacerbated by supply-chain delays for critical inputs like superconductors have only added to the turbulence, yet new players have still managed to enter the market en-masse.

Consumer lifestyles and budgets have also evolved, impacting decisions and questioning traditional brand differentiators such as prestige, safety and performance.

Amid the upheaval, it’s no surprise automotive buyers are now thinking, feeling and behaving quite differently. Uncertainty and lack of knowledge dominate, regardless of past interaction, current or future car purchasing preferences.

Things have fundamentally changed. To uncover the dynamics driving this evolution as well as to better understand how to help consumers navigate, The Growth D_Stillery recently conducted an extensive research programme to gauge auto consumer sentiment – undertaking an in-depth industry commentary scan and a survey of 1,600 Australians considering buying a new or used car.

A key finding in The Growth D_Stillery Owning the Moments that Matter in Automotive report was that half of those in the market felt overwhelmed by the rapid pace of change, and that emerging industry dynamics significantly influenced the buying approach of 1 in 4 intenders.

As an industry, there’s never been a better time to capture a share of auto intenders.

Not only are buyers now inexperienced, there are more of them. Roy Morgan statistics revealed over six million Australians are in the market to buy a car in 2023/4, marking a 92% increase in active intention over the past three years.

While broader industry news and trends haven’t deterred car buyers, there is an adjustment period as expectations and behaviours shift. Half of those surveyed by The Growth D_Stillery reported a sense of urgency and 1 in 6 adjusted their timelines, with 2 in 5 purchasing something different than initially planned.

It’s on marketers to start the conversation – Australians are listening…

The pace of change has driven greater hunger for guidance, and buyers are already actively engaged. 59% of respondents said that they keep a constant eye on the market, and 70% regularly browse auto listings and dealerships. On average, they consult four different information sources and seek answers to five purchasing questions simultaneously.

Marketers have less time to intercept & introduce brands to consumers…

The auto buying journey has shortened to an average of just 4 months from ‘trigger’ to transaction, compared to 7 months identified by carsales.com.au in 2021. The traditional stages of a consumer journey remain, however, given the new market dynamics, we set out to better understand the interplay and impacts of ‘Speedbumps’ (information and/or situational hurdles), ‘Roundabouts’ (emotional factors at play), and ‘Street Signs’ (sources of information and influence).

We also know from the Owning the Moments that Matter in Automotive report that psychological safety now plays a much more significant role, contributing to 60% of a consumer’s decision-making ability. Assisting buyers in feeling confident and safe, not just by making it practically easy, relies on understanding their key needs at key tipping points – the Moments That Matter:

  1. The (re)Calibration: This moment matters as it’s where buyers have their first market
    contact, often a confronting reality-check for buyers which forces a recalibration of
    expectations. It’s also a significant time for marketers and brands because consumers could
    benefit from a trusted name to help them navigate and feel safe.
  2. The Conviction: All the buyer’s research and evaluation culminates in a choice. But
    getting here can be overwhelming, potentially leading to information overload if buyers are
    not well supported. This moment is an opportunity for brands to provide guiding tools and
    comparisons to reassure buyers they’re on the right path.
  3. The Commitment: When buyers make the final transaction, there’s no turning back. It’s
    emotionally charged, with excitement and anxiety, but also carries significant financial outlay
    stretching beyond purchase financing itself. This moment matters to brands and marketers
    as an opportunity to celebrate and stay in touch, building satisfaction, advocacy, and loyalty.

And while consumers may approach the journey from different starting points (think rev-heads seeking to upgrade, families needing to upsize, new starters with big dreams and small budgets, or those looking to reduce carbon footprint), the common thread is that they’re all inexperienced buyers. At any point, buyers may be forced or choose to pause, revisit, or restart their journey.

So, what does this mean for brands?

Buyers need more support through the inevitable u-turns and road-blocks. And marketers
and brands will need to demonstrate a new level of empathy for the buyer at each moment:

  1. Become the Trusted Advisor: Given complexities introduced by turbulent supply
    and demand, marketers need to (re)educate buyers. Creating guides, articles, and
    tools that explain trends, tech innovations, and full-cost impacts in real terms will
    build trust and credibility with buyers.
  2. Show Up at Every Stage: Re-establish credentials in your communications from the
    beginning and continue to be present at every stage, as buyers will inevitably
    reconsider and recalibrate as they move through the journey.
  3. Make it Personal: Embrace the emotions of the buyer, at least as much as you talk
    about features. Tailored messages, tone, content, and tools will resonate better and
    empower buyers with the psychological safety needed to make informed decisions.

Ciel Graham is research director at News Corp Australia’s The Growth D_Stillery.


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