Google: Search Key to Auto-Buying Cycle

Google’s vertical industry teams have been taking a very consultative approach to ad sales. So far, Google has focused its efforts on five verticals: automotive, retail, financial services, entertainment & media, and healthcare.

Instead of just presenting advertisers with a list of options, the teams work closely with top advertisers to come up with packages that work best for them and others in their industry. Google is also undertaking industry-specific research to share with advertisers.

At a press event yesterday at Google’s New York office, Bonita Coleman Stewart, director of Google’s automotive industry team, shared preliminary details of a study Google undertook with Compete that looked at online shopping and research behavior in the six months leading up to the vehicle purchase.

In short, the buying cycle for autos has condensed from up to six months to one month, with 65 percent of buyers making a decision in one month or less, and only 17 percent taking more than 3 months to make a buying decision. Automobile marketers are more used to planning their marketing activities around a six-month cycle, but they must now adjust to the new speed of online marketing, Stewart said.

Another common misconception some marketers have about search is that it’s only good for the “lower funnel” activities of driving leads and sales. The study found that was not the case, since most consumers start their vehicle purchase cycle with search, and continue to rely on search through the entire funnel, from awareness, to intent, to consideration, then to a test drive and purchase at a local dealer.

Google has been reaching out to the auto industry to educate them on these kinds of findings, Stewart said. Google is working with automakers, agencies, regional dealer groups, and individual dealers, as well as parts resellers and service vendors, to help them understand which of Google’s products would work best for them, and to show them metrics that prove that it will be worth their while, she said.

Google is also stressing the availability of its non-search ads, including display ads on its content network, audio ads, and site targeting and maps ads for better targeting. The biggest factor that is expected to drive the auto industry to the Web is the combination of search and online video, Stewart said. She shared that 382 million videos were viewed in YouTube’s auto category in July, out of a total 9 billion videos viewed that month – that’s about 4 percent of all videos.

She stressed the idea of mobile devices becoming like “portable TVs” that automakers can use to engage potential buyers wherever they are. As more video-friendly devices, like the iPhone, enter the market, there will be even more opportunity in online video, she said.

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