Cars and Concepts

Is the purchase funnel dead?

LOS ANGELES -- Awareness. Consideration. Preference. Purchase.

The automotive purchase funnel has been written in stone for decades. While more data than ever are available on consumer habits, those habits are becoming less predictable.

Is it time to reconsider this longtime marketing methodology of generating sales?

At the Automotive News Marketing Seminar on Tuesday here, four top marketers pronounced the end of the purchase funnel because people aren’t shopping for cars the way they used to.

Rather than continually narrowing vehicle choices before purchase, younger shoppers now add and subtract vehicle choices throughout the process, even up to the last minute before purchase.

“The traditional funnel is dead,” said Brian Bolain, corporate marketing communications manager for Lexus. “We’re still selling cars, and it’s an emotional purchase. But top of mind is the best you can hope for.”

Russell Wager, vice president of marketing for Mazda North American Operations, said the model has changed to more of a “funnel cake, where everything is twisting, turning and inside out.”

Steve Shannon, vice president of marketing for Hyundai Motor America, mourns the passing of the sales model “because it was simple.”

But a big data purchase funnel doesn’t work anymore because car consumer shopping habits are less predictable.

“There’s data everywhere. You can model every dependent and independent variable, and try to model sales. It costs a fortune, it works in the boardroom and it confirms you need $1 billion in advertising,” Shannon said.

Instead, Hyundai is moving to a program-by-program media analysis, rather than a “boil the ocean” approach, Shannon said.

There are still aspects of the traditional funnel that hold true, said Erich Marx, director of Web site and social media marketing for Nissan North America.

“We still have to build awareness and formulate opinion. Block and tackle still matters. You have to make people aware, build opinion and get on the consideration list. If you are doing the right things, you’ll have some level of success.”

You can reach Mark Rechtin at -- Follow Mark on Twitter: