Why car manufacturers are still struggling to satisfy female consumers
Women are the main influencers when it comes to car purchases, but auto brands are still failing to engage the segment. Fiorella Di Santo addresses marketers on what they need to do to attract the female dollar.
The research is in and it doesn’t make happy reading for marketers working in the automotive category. While the industry is overwhelmingly dominated by men, its main customers are increasingly women. When it comes to engaging with and delivering a memorable customer experience for this half of the population, the report card would read ‘could do better’.
The role of women in making purchasing decisions is not new, but it’s worth reiterating the statistics when it comes to the auto category. Women now influence more than 80% of car purchase decisions. They drive 45% of all new cars on Australian roads. As a percentage of the population, there are more women with a driver’s licence than men.
A recent Bauer Media survey found that 42% of female respondents felt car advertisers didn’t understand them, with the same percentage finding that auto advertising was patronising. Not surprisingly, 59% of women also described the experience of buying a car as somewhere between ‘average’ and ‘terrible’.
As one of the most competitive car markets in the world – with more than 50 different car brands and thousands of models to choose from – Australian automotive marketers who want to get their brand and vehicle into the consideration set, which generally contains fewer than four options, need to lift their game when it comes to engaging with the female audience.
Concerted efforts by some marques to address these issues are being made, but there are some critical steps that still need to be achieved in order to understand, engage and satisfy women when they are on the path to car purchase.
What women want
First of all, make the effort to find out what a woman wants. When a man walks into a car dealership, the conversation tends to be about what he wants. When a woman walks in, the conversation tends to slip into assumption mode. Women want to be engaged around their individual needs and wants, rather than be the target of assumed or unconscious biases. Without doubt, there are many women who love V8 power or zippy auto performance, while some women prefer economy and practicality. So making assumptions about what a woman wants when she comes to purchase a car or generalising women’s needs is the first mistake.
A useful generalisation
Yet there is one generalisation that is actually safe to make and could be useful. Recognise that women are not necessarily as interested in driving and cars as you are. Many women need to be drawn into the exciting world of cars.
Move from intimidating to engaging
An important consideration is an understanding that women may not be as confident about cars as men are. For instance, 49% of women feel vulnerable when they visit a dealership and a UK study showed that 90% of women bring a man with them to the dealership. We need to change women’s car purchasing experience from intimidating to engaging.
Even if women are not as confident engaging in the car buying process as men, they are probably far more careful, researching the vehicles and their practical details more fully. Women ask more people more questions and take longer to come to a decision. A safe assumption to make about women is that, when it comes to shopping, they are extremely savvy and educated shoppers, who know what they want.
The non-linear path to purchase
Women have driven a trend to thoroughly research their options before they go to buy. They use more than 24 research touch points in their search and see the recommendations of friends and influencers as being as powerful as those of motoring experts – points of influence are just as important as points of expertise. Women are seeking informative content and independent voices rather than invested ones. The old model of selling based on awareness plus retail is increasingly out of touch with how women actually buy a car now.
Women are experts at understanding and responding to emotive triggers. They like to engage with others to give them the security and confidence they seek when making a significant purchase. They want to feel respected, important, in control and at ease during the buying process. Car makers need to move past the rational appeals and become more adept at emotion.
Manufacturers are no longer being evaluated as a car brand, but as a lifestyle brand. We can already see a shift in thinking among some brands, which are positioning themselves in the lifestyle space with clothing and fragrance lines. Porsche has just completed its first real estate development in Florida and we have Mercedes opening its inaugural Me store in Melbourne, which will see the brand host ambassador events, fashion shows, movie screenings and live music, as well as selling cars.
The best intentions
Now for the hard part: even if you understand all of these things, performing better in every one of these aspects is no guarantee of success. The perception of a lack of empathy and interest is going to be very hard to change from the outside. Women simply don’t see car makers as being fundamentally tapped into them. Frustratingly for the female consumer and the marketer, even brands that are trying to do the right thing by talking to women often make a complete mess of it.
The best of intentions can still go spectacularly wrong.
One size doesn’t fit all
Working in publishing, I know that women are multidimensional – there is no one-size-fits-all approach when communicating with them. It helps to have allies who genuinely understand and lead women’s views on all the ‘new’ selection criteria that matter. These allies have been producing content that connects, engages and prompts women to act for decades, but too often these allies are brought in at the end of the discussion, to execute the campaign, rather than at the beginning, when they could help shape and inform it.
Pull, don’t push
Car makers are used to applying ‘power’ to the marketplace. Big TV spots, impressive billboards, dramatic driving shots and lists of features and advantages are all well and good, but they operate with a push mentality, not a pull mentality. For many women, this is at best irrelevant, at worst a demonstration of a lack of understanding. Selling to women requires the creation of a network of influence that surrounds and empowers them.
With women being a powerful and increasingly influential group of potential buyers, the rewards for automotive brands in improving how they talk to this audience is clear. With millions of dollars at stake, satisfying women by delivering a more holistic and tailored approach to their path to car purchase has never been more critical.
Fiorella Di Santo is Director of Sales at Bauer Media