Attention, automakers: Spend less on TV advertising and more on the Internet to reach alpha vehicle buyers.
That influential group holds surprising sway over decisions about vehicle purchases.
That's the advice of Mark Bunger, a senior analyst for Forrester Research Inc., a marketing research company in Cambridge, Mass. Bunger divides alpha buyers into three categories:
1. Enthusiasts are those who scour automotive Web sites, even when they are not in the market for a new vehicle.
2. Early adapters are innovators who want to be the first to try new products, including vehicles.
3. Connectors are consumers "who know what's cool."
Three out of four alpha vehicle buyers are men, Bunger says.
Bunger surveyed vehicle buyers online last spring.
More than a third said that word-of-mouth advice was the most important factor in their purchase decisions.
The survey found that two-thirds of enthusiasts often tell other people about vehicles that interest them, creating a multiplier effect. "Enthusiasts are a conduit for customers," Bunger says.
Jeff Bell, vice president of marketing for the Jeep and Chrysler brands, says the company is targeting auto enthusiasts.
Bell cites an increase in Chrysler's sales of merchandise that bears its brand logos.
But it can be hard to find enthusiasts, Bell says. He says the Internet is a good way to reach this group -- preferably on automakers' Web sites, since marketers have more control there.
Bunger recommends third-party automotive Web sites such as Edmunds.com and kbb.com. Enthusiasts also read buff magazines and attend auto shows and races, he says.
In the past, automakers controlled their messages and "felt they were running the show," Bunger says. As consumers wield more power, word-of-mouth grows in importance, he says.
Automakers, Bunger argues, should think of alpha buyers as "bearers of their companies' messages."
He says: "I am not saying automakers shouldn't do TV ads. But auto television ads are the vast majority of their budgets, and one of the least influential" media.
Says Bunger: "We're starting to know which half of advertising budgets is wasted."