When a car shopper uses a mobile device to search on Google for a Kia vehicle, a texting icon appears in the ad that connects consumers to their local dealership. From there, shoppers can go back and forth with a salesperson at their own pace about pricing, incentives, store hours or whatever they'd like to learn about. The salesperson responds on a computer.
Kia thinks that approach -- which the automaker began beta testing this year -- will not only appeal to millennials but also boost the vehicles they're most likely to be interested in, such as the Forte, Optima and Soul. The Google search-ad texts are now available to all advertisers.
Kia's texting campaign is powered by technology from LivePerson, a company that has built chat and text platforms for businesses.
LivePerson's system routes consumers to dealerships in several ways.
It can pick up cues from the words people type into the Google search field, for instance, or through reverse-phone lookup. A user's location also can be pinpointed through geo-targeting features on the phone.
The queries are fielded initially by LivePerson reps, who then pass the chat to the nearest dealership.
In a recent survey of 500 U.S. millennials, mobile engagement company OpenMarket found that 72 percent of them text 10 or more times a day, and 31 percent said they text more than 50 times a day.
Millennials said they prefer to text businesses because it allows for two-way communication that is convenient, fast and easy, according to OpenMarket, which also has a texting platform to reach consumers.
"Getting on the phone with a salesperson, you may or may not want to do that and go through that pressure," Rob LoCascio, CEO of LivePerson, told Automotive News. "If you're messaging someone, it's on your time. You're controlling it."
Millennials tend to make their purchase decisions quickly, which could heighten the importance of dealerships being able to connect with them by text.
According to digital marketing company Jumpstart Automotive, 74 percent of millennials spend four weeks or less shopping for a car before buying.
Libby Murad-Patel, Jump-start's vice president of strategic insights and analytics, said the open office spaces where a growing number of millennials work can make it awkward for them to discuss personal business such as car deals over the phone during the day.
Texting could open the door for them to correspond with dealerships throughout the day.
Texting "gives young people the ability to keep the conversation going and move the process along faster where it's not really disrupting their day to step away and take a phone call," Murad-Patel said.
Kia has its eyes on the younger crowd, but some say texting can be useful regardless of the age group. ActivEngage, a provider of chat and text tools to the likes of General Motors, BMW and AutoNation, has found that 90 percent of consumers on its texting platform convert to leads.
A conversion means a consumer has asked the store for more information and provided a name, email and phone number.
The ability for car shoppers to remain anonymous while getting questions answered is another attractive benefit of texting, said Todd Smith, CEO of ActivEngage.
He said: "I have a quick question. I don't want to call and reveal myself yet to the dealership. I don't want to fill out a form and have to wait, but if I can have my question answered via chat or text, it's a faster instant-gratification source."