Google Think Auto 2016: Full Review

For those of you who need more than a brief summary of think auto here is the big one, enjoy.

Google Think Auto 2016

This year, Think Auto was held in the historic Massey Hall. While the venue was definitely cool, the seats left something to be desired. The event featured a lineup of well known Googlers that took turns presenting different topics. Think Auto followed a similar path to previous years and updated a lot of the data points. There was a strong message presented again this year that OEMs and dealers are not living up to what the customer wants. One dealer group executive who attended the event told me he wasn’t quite sure he liked Google presenting itself as “the supreme overlord telling us how shitty we are at our jobs. We sold more cars than last year didn’t we?” Anyway, his words, not mine.

Sam Sebastian, the managing director of Google Canada, opened the event with a discussion about change which really set the tone for the whole day. Due to the fact that there are a lot of stats at Think Auto, I am going to use a lot of bullet points, this will make it easier for you if you are only looking for the numbers.

First Presentation – Dave Resnick, The Car Buyer’s Journey

One great development this year is that they expanded the survey set from 3,000 to 5,000 people. If you have been to a Think Auto, or any Google presentation for that matter, you have definitely heard of the car buyer’s journey and its 4 phases:

  1. Thinking
  2. Researching
  3. Buying
  4. Caring

So what’s new with the journey this year? One important thing to note is that the journey is decisively digital, but not all digital is created equal.

  • We are always on! 1 in 3 Canadians are in the market for a car at any given time.
  • Loyalty is not very high, about 1 in 4 are loyal to a specific brand.
  • Shocker: 9 in 10 use the internet when buying a vehicle! But here’s what matters online, in order:
    • Search (remember Google pays for the study)
    • OEM Site
    • Dealer Site
    • Review Site (sorry, classifieds didn’t even crack the top 4)
  • We move between devices when shopping (i.e. desktop, mobile, tablet)
  • The Digital Multiplier. Using digital advertising in conjunction with traditional boosts ROI as opposed to using traditional alone.

What about the 4 phases? Who’s doing what in each phase? In the Thinking phase, on average, we are considering 4 vehicles and have a budget of about $32,000. The three big motivators that trigger the journey are:

  1. Replace your current piece (upgrader sale!)
  2. Your life has changed
  3. Technology (safety, infotainment, comfort, convenience)

Video is still a key trigger to get people from the Thinking phase to the Researching phase. TV is still relevant, of course (and that’s something that the OEM can take care of) but YouTube is becoming more and more important each year and is having a bigger impact in the phase shift.

So now that we have moved from Thinking to Researching what’s happened? We’re still considering 4 rides but our average budget has gone up from $32K to $36K. The Research phase is all about investigation and visualization. In other words, you should provide great content and video. Of course in the Research phase, pretty much everyone is using search and it is not much of a change from last year, but 93% of searches lead to action on top sources (visited an OEM site, visited a dealer site, read a review or went to a dealership).

So what happens when we move to the Buying phase? We drop two vehicles, now we are only considering 2 down from 4, and our budget has increased yet again, this time to $40,000. What do consumers want in this phase? They want:

  • To be better informed
  • A process that saves time
  • To be in a better position to negotiate
  • And they want to avoid trips to the dealer, but they are willing to travel (average 55km) to get the right experience

The Buying phase is also where the brick and mortar have the most impact. The dealership visit and the dealer contact play the biggest part. Google also told us that search usually leads to dealer activity. 3 in 5 people engaged with a dealer as a result of a search (visited the dealer site, visited the dealership, contacted the dealer, booked a test drive). What about the in-person visits? Everyone has a stat for this… we’re only visiting 1.3, 1.5, 1.7 dealerships! Well according to Google here is the breakdown:

  • 40% of us visit only 1 dealer
  • 23% visit multiple dealers of the same brand
  • 37% of us visit multiple dealers and multiple brands

Dave provided a lot of updates on the previous year’s data. Some has changed, some has remained the same. As a dealer what can you action?

  •  Not all digital is created equal. I’m looking at you, social media.
  • In store experience and dealer contacts
  • Focus on what you can impact. Your website, for example: prices and payments are a sore spot, good content that the OEM doesn’t provide
  • Video

Second Presentation – Ashley Hahn, Video: The Digital Test Drive

This is the second time that I have seen Ashley speak and she is world class! Video has grown in importance so much that it now gets its own spot at Think Auto, that should tell you something.

  • 9 in 10 who leverage video take an action, just like search. I have said for a long time that we are lazy, we don’t want to read the internet, we want to watch the internet. We like sight, sound and motion and we like it online:
    • Time spent with television has decreased 9%
    • Daily time spent with digital video has increased 45%
    • Daily time spent with mobile video has increased 125%

People love online video, yet very few dealers spend any effort or money here. So what kind of content are consumers looking for? They are looking for content that:

  1. Informs
  2. Fuels Conversation
  3. Entertains

Consumers are watching vehicle review videos, model comparison videos, and videos that highlight a particular feature. One dealer in Canada was actually able to find a strong correlation between video views and sales. There is nothing stopping dealers from filming useful videos for consumers except the fear of actually doing it. YouTube is trying to make this even easier for you and that’s why they have launched The YouTube Director for Business App.

So not only do we know Canadian auto shoppers are watching online video, it’s easier than ever to get a video online and finally, if you were not aware, YouTube provides you with the same great targeting abilities as other online mediums. Online video is a must for continued success in 2017.

Third Presentation – Andrew Assad, The Dealer

This year was a little different as Think Auto included a section specifically about the dealership and what they can do. Again, there were updates on perennial metrics at Think Auto and some good insights, but I think this is the biggest area they can improve for next year. Here is what they told us:

  • 51% of dealers manage more than 1 website. This is a problem that the OEMs need to address. In my opinion, a single provider OEM mandated site never meets the dealer’s needs and for this reason dealers decide to launch another site. Further to the OEMs, the classified sites that force you to take a site to advertise on their market place also add to this issue.
  • 65% of shoppers have emailed a dealer
  • 82% of dealers measure ROI on email
  • Only 56% of customers are satisfied with timeliness of responses
  • Only 51% of customers are satisfied with quality of responses

This information is similar to previous years. We always need to be working on the speed and quality of email leads. Many dealers are working on texting solutions which help with speed, I’ll be curious to see if Google looks at this for next year.

1 in 2 dealers are looking for more help from the tier 1 and 2 resources:

  • 66% of dealers are looking for co-op dollars and flexibility
  • 58% of dealers are looking for digital innovation recommendations
  • 55% of dealers are looking for car buyer insights

To make the dealerships a bigger part of Think Auto next year, Google is going to be awarding a Dealer Digital Excellence Award. Will you win?

Fourth Presentation – Deepak Anand, The Future

Deepak is well known for his crowd-pleasing, no-bullshit presentations. After throwing his boss Sam under the bus, he started to talk about the future and what it might hold. He talked about the usual disrupters that we all love to refer to: Uber, Airbnb, Netflix, etc., and while it might be common place to talk about these companies at gatherings like this, the message is still relevant, especially in the auto segment. There are a number of companies trying to change the typical business model. Whether it be Beepi, Carvana or Tesla, there is a bullseye on the auto industry. It might be hard for us to think about someone actually succeeding, but there are a number of very smart people trying to disrupt our business.

Deepak showed us a pretty slick piece of technology that is in its infancy at Google. I didn’t catch the name of it, but it’s essentially a visual, augmented reality – a Shazam for cars. Basically you look through your phone at cars as though you were filming a video and it can, with reasonable accuracy, identify the year, make, model and trim. Like I said, it is in its infancy, but imagine the possibilities! It could literally turn every car on the road that you see into an ad.

He also talked about the idea of AI and machine learning and how it could play a part in dealer chat and lead response – 46% of dealers are worried about talent. Again, it is a little ways away, but it might help with the timeliness and quality issues we mentioned above.

As for the survey data about what consumers want moving forward:

  • 39% want to buy online
  • 24% want to share a purchase, I thought this one was interesting
  • 85% want to do more online as opposed to at the dealer
  • 57% want a test drive that begins and ends at home without the dealer
  • 35% want to buy through a third party

So now that you have plowed through my essay on Think Auto, here are the key points you can take away and implement:

  • Payments and pricing are a pain point for consumers, make it easy!
  • Search and your dealer website are in your control, focus here!
  • Integrate video into your strategy!
  • Change, like always, is happening. Embrace it and try new things!

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