As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus famously stated, “No one ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same person.” The same principle of constant change also applies to the automobile market—it, too, is never the same twice. There are mainstay brands that stick around, there are upstart brands that enter (and exit) the market, and there are models of both that come and go. Likewise, as automobile drivers themselves change – switching jobs, starting a family, moving to a different town – their tastes and needs will change along with them. Through the use of behavioral profiling and predictive modeling, you can ensure that when customers are ready to switch cars, you will be ready, too—with the information you need to get them into the right next car.
Discontinued Brands and Orphan Vehicles
The river flows on. Makes such as Isuzu and Suzuki exit the U.S. market. Brands such as Geo get stuck in a 90’s time warp, while some exotic brands, such as Maybach, go the way of the dodo bird. But more importantly, solid, contemporary mainstream brands such as Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Mercury and Saturn can also become obsolete. What does this mean for the U.S. auto industry? When we look at the complete picture of defunct brands in the U.S., some two-and-a-half million automobile owners find themselves driving “orphan” vehicles today.
Converting Orphan Car Owners
These owners of orphan vehicles are also less loyal to their original equipment manufacturer (OEM) brands. According to IHS Automotive (formerly R.L. Polk), average brand loyalty across the automotive industry stands at 58%. But over the last five years, the number of orphan vehicle owners who remained with the same OEM has dropped from 57% to 39%. In short, orphan vehicle owners are more willing to shop around, offering a prime opportunity for competitors to convert them to a new make, and a challenge for the original OEM to keep them in the nest by enticing them to move to a different model or brand.
The Aging Vehicles Trend
Vehicle age is another important trend leading to opportunity. According to the Wall Street Journal, the average age of a car on the road in 2013 was 11 years old—a record high—with 20% of all cars at a prehistoric 16 years of age. As vehicles age and need replacement, opportunity opens up for all three car markets: new-car, used-car, and leasing. Lenders, dealers, and automakers need to look at this demographic closely to determine the correct product to market to these owners.
Finding the Right Family
Through the combination of discontinued brands, decreased customer loyalty, and the increased number of used cars on the road, the opportunities for moving car owners into a new vehicle are wide open.
Now you need to determine who to target and how to reach them. Here are three important considerations:
1. Match current receptive owners to your current offerings. To do that, you have to know who these current owners are, and which other brand and model owners they most closely resemble. Behavior modeling will help you identify purchasing preferences by demographic, which improves your ability to get the right message to the right person.
2. Remember: people change. It’s Heraclitus and the river again. Don’t make the mistake of trying to sell someone the same car over again without first checking to see what has changed in their life. Has their income level changed? What about their credit situation? Employment? Family? The more you know about the car owner, the better focused your marketing will become—resulting in more conversions.
3. Know when car owners are ready to buy. Today, analytic technologies can help marketers target and track potential customers. This technology not only tells you who is in the market, but also who meets the criteria for your product—allowing marketers to focus on the best audience for their criteria. Such tools pull data from credit bureaus and other lending agencies and can even send you alerts when targeted car owners have started shopping for a new vehicle. Knowing when customers are in the market also makes the selection of marketing channels much easier. For instance, a piece of direct mail sent to a customer who has has just applied for financing will probably arrive too late. Time to pick up the phone and make that winning call.
A Final Word
With two-and-a-half million orphan vehicles on the road, and an increasing average vehicle age, the time is right for putting drivers into another car—whether new, used, or leased. Using behavioral and predictive tools, you can now obtain the information you need to identify these owners, determine which offerings best suit them, choose the appropriate marketing channels, and deliver the right message—at the right time. Taking advantage of these tools will help you navigate the river of change and avoid being trapped in yesterday’s back eddy.