Opportunities abound for modern marketers using technology to track millions of consumers’ buying behaviors and target market to them accordingly. But dealing with so much data comes with issues.

“There’s so much opportunity, but it’s so complicated,” says Sarah Ohle, head of data for GroundTruth, a location data company that’s now delving into the automotive market. “It’s complicated, because technology can lead you in different directions. There is so much in the funnel.”

For digital marketing, GroundTruth’s technology platform uses smartphones’ locator functions to crunch data on both purchases and consumers' purchase intents. “We’re taking data insights on what people are doing in the real world,” Ohle says.

Company software observes visits from 65 million users monthly. GroundTruth sees the activities of two out of three smartphone users in the U.S.

For instance, if consumers whose online shopping behavior indicates an interest in purchasing a vehicle, and tracking shows they are on or even near a dealership lot, they potentially would get a digital message saying something like, “Come in and test drive this car,” Ohle says.

GroundTruth’s somewhat daunting aims are to systematically watch purchase intents, send targeted messages, measure the impact of them and understand consumer behavior.    

“We try to understand visitation behavior,” says Ohle, vice president-marketing insights and a 2009 graduate of UCLA’s business school. “I’m concerned with when, how and what.”

One “fun fact” she has detected is that automakers tend to reign as sales leaders in the markets in which they are headquartered. She cites BMW in Cherry Hill, NJ, as an example. Reasons for that edge could range from hometown favorite to employee discounts for people who work for a particular automaker.

Highlights of a GroundTruth automotive study indicates:

  •  While 2017 auto sales are down foot-traffic data shows shopping around and visiting dealerships isn’t. Ford is the most-visited auto brand, taking 12% share of foot traffic. Ohle says that’s partly due to the sheer number of Ford dealerships. Chevrolet is next with 11%, followed by Toyota with 7%.
  •  Consumers in the West continue to place high importance on fuel-efficient brands. Brands that promote safety are important in the Northeast, a volatile weather region. Trucks and SUVs are prevalent in the Midwest and South, particularly in rural regions where space is not an issue.
  •  As weather heats up, so does dealership foot traffic. Visits increased 16% from January to July. Consumers on average visit 2.2 dealerships, often to the same brand. With the value of a visit at a premium, Ohle says understanding foot-traffic patterns has never been more important.
  •  Lines of distinction are blurring between segments and brands. For instance, this year BMW and Tesla introduced lower-priced vehicles, while brands such as Kia debuted the Stinger sports car.
  •  Millennials, the fastest-growing age segment of vehicle buyers, favor SUVs and CUVs from American brands such as Ford and Chevrolet. Many Baby Boomers are driving their dream cars such as Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com