Digital technology makes it easy for automakers, dealers and marketers to track consumers’ online activity, such as which automotive websites they have visited and what vehicles they are looking at.

But unless they raise their hand and volunteer information about themselves, it is hard to know what they are up to when they go offline and look around a dealership lot.

They may visit during off-hours or tell a salesman “just looking,” hardly enough feedback for getting a customer profile.  “It’s a blind spot,” says Graham Line, CEO of Digital Data Solutions.

But he and Kevin Root of Root & Associates have created new technology using smartphone locator functions and more to provide a full view of most car consumers.

The product is called AutoPulse. That’s also the name of a company Line and Root are forming for the technology product owned jointly by their two companies.

Information stitched together from various sources – ranging from credit scores to vehicle-registration records – reveals customer information such as a person’s name, email address, phone number, credit score, income level, education, what vehicle he or she currently owns, equity in the vehicle, what dealerships they are visiting and for how long.

“We have a full battery of psychographic and demographic information on them,” Root says. “We put information together by brand and see traffic patterns. We’ve cracked the code.”

Each individual visit to a dealership lot and the customer record is called a “pulse.” AutoPulse captures those signals. For instance, the technology can show someone owns an Audi and is visiting Audi dealerships to potentially buy another model. Conversely, the pulse technology can reveal an Audi owner is visiting, say, Mercedes-Benz dealerships. In such cases, it might be time for sending them targeted incentive offers to try to keep them in the brand fold.

“This is a full view of the consumer 98% of the time,” says Line, noting there are exceptions and information gaps in some individual cases.

“We don’t have data on every single person, and to access the data someone’s smartphone locator services must be on,” Root adds.

The information funnels in through various sources, but the centerpiece of the technology is its use of the phone locator capability. Line and Root have access through 90,000 apps, many of them gaming, news and ride-hailing sites. “If you have an Uber app and have it on, we’ve got you,” Root says.

App use customarily requires people to agree to allow their mobile phones to show their locations. Clicking “yes” to user agreements also grants permission to be marketed to them “in acceptable ways,” Root says.

He cites four ways automakers, dealers and others can use AutoPulse:

  • Employing the “the surgical” use of “loyalty” incentives to keep potential defectors who are visiting a competitor’s dealership from brand bolting.
  • Following up to find out why people might be shopping at dealerships other than the one from which they bought their current vehicle.

“We can put a survey in an app such as Facebook and say something like, ‘Car shopping? Here are three questions: What vehicle do you currently own? What are you shopping for? If you are shopping for a different brand, was there a prior sales, service or product issue that led you to do so?’”

Root adds: “We’re not telling them we already know they are in the market and know what car they own, because we don’t want to creep them out.”

  • Offering defectors a sweetened deal. “That could move the needle,” Root says.
  • Conducting conquest-marketing campaigns to get a shopper to change brands.         

The accumulated data also tells which automakers are doing a good or bad job bringing customers back to dealerships, Root says, adding it also measures the effectiveness of incentives.

Because modern consumers do so much online car shopping, they ultimately visit fewer dealerships. Some estimates indicate they visit on average 1.4 stores. Line and Root say it’s more like 3.8. That takes into account used-car sales.

They also say the average consideration period – the time between when someone starts thinking about buying a vehicle and when they actually buy one – is 120 days, longer than some other industry estimates.

Line says AutoPulse’s means of data tracking is fully permissible in the U.S. but less so in Canada, where he lives, because of more privacy restrictions there.   

Root says great care is taken to protect identifiable information on individual consumers. “We have protocols in place for that reason,” he tells WardsAuto. “We don’t want to have people freaking out.”

The AutoPulse product currently is available, but Root says. “We are taking a slow, measured approach to the rollout, gathering a lot of feedback and making adjustments as we go.”  

sfinlay@wardsauto.com