String's Automotive Marketing Blog

Truly Knowing Your Customer: Experian Demographic Data On Demand

Posted by Ken Kolodziej

Jul 30, 2014 5:05:00 PM

First, A Question

Before I jump into things, let me pose a question to dealers, agencies, and vendors: How well do you know your customers / your dealers’ customers?  Do you know them well enough to put hard cash on those insights with an advertising strategy? How about $1,000? $10,000?  $100,000?

Follow-up question: How about your competitors’ customers, on-brand and off-brand?  Do you know them well enough? Are you in their mind?

OK…I’m approaching creepy territory now, but I think you understand the point I’m trying to make: We can throw our full weight and wallet behind what we think we know about our customers, but, man, it’s important to truly know who we’re marketing to at a fundamental level. And, for that, we need some solid data to back us up.


Democratizing Consumer Data

I wrote yesterday about a key motivation behind String in general and behind the Dealer Positioning System in particular (here).  Today, I wanted to write about the next step forward that we’re taking to democratize data-driven insights and make them accessible to as many stakeholders as possible in the industry.

Our latest project has been to take Experian’s AutoDNA file, which is a very large, broad data set chock full of anonymous household vehicle, demographic and psychographic information, and break it down into a small, tight, visual summary of the key attributes in the file. Traditionally, this data has only been available to OEMs and other large organizations to perform ad hoc analyses of their customers and of their competitors’ customers.

In my opinion, this sort of data is useful to all dealers and agencies, not just OEMs, and we saw an opportunity to democratize the insights coming out of AutoDNA.  We were fortunate that Experian’s Automotive team thought the same way, and drove the process from start to finish on Experian’s end. Great team.

Flattening access to information 

Why am I excited about implementing AutoDNA in String’s DPS?  Because, in my experience in the auto industry, everyone has the best of intentions to increase sales / service adoption / margins / market share / etc.: Dealers, agencies, and vendors alike.  However, all too often we continue to make decisions that we “think” are correct without having truly solid insights to back up our claims.  That’s why, even in the age of accountability and traceability, we still find ourselves asking, “Did that work?”

In other words: Do we know our customers well enough to put tens of thousands of dollars to work without waking up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night wondering if we’re doing the right thing?


That’s All Great, But Why Should I Care?

AutoDNA is an anonymized data set of all consumer households across the country that had vehicle purchase or lease activity over a certain time period.  What Experian Automotive has done that’s really exciting is to combine their household garaging data [i.e. which vehicles the household currently owns and used to own] with their demographic and psychographic data to reveal a TON of insight about those households.

In the past, these two data sets were sitting in siloes, but Experian decided to combine them, household by household, to unlock some amazing insights about who’s buying what, which buyers respond to what messaging and advertising, how to best reach and target customers and conquests, where the key activity is happening in the market, and so forth…zip code by zip code, all across the country.







David vs. Goliath

Take a moment to understand how powerful this is for any of the “little guys” (read: Almost every dealer, agency and vendor) in the industry who can’t spend millions of dollars on data, analytics software, and data analysts to really understand their customers, to the point where you’re getting in their heads [yes, I know: Creepy territory again].

Dealers and agencies work with substantial ad and operating budgets and need data-driven insights to run an efficient business, but how can they make truly data-based decisions of who to target, what to focus on, how to advertise, and where to spend money without enterprise-level data, software and resources?  It’s been a Catch-22 for years, leaving us at a competitive disadvantage with people who do have the resources.  I don’t like the asymmetry of this situation, but I do enjoy the David vs. Goliath fight.


The Reveal

Combining demographic and psychographic insights from AutoDNA with the other internal and external data sets in our arsenal allows all DPS users to tell a more complete story about:

  • What vehicles to focus on

  • When to focus on those vehicles

  • Where the opportunities lie

  • Who the best targets are

  • How best to get them to listen to the dealer’s message, and

  • Why it’s good for both the dealer (turn, gross) and the customer (best message and best value for them)


Isn’t this what we’ve been trying to do all along? Get to the right shoppers with the most compelling message with the right medium?  It’s the right message to the right people at the right time.

So, how did we take the first step in implementing Experian’s data in the DPS?  We started with the My Market tab, and any zip code you click on will show a popup similar to the image below.

Here’s what the insights might look like for a zip code northwest of Boston, using sample data:


Users can also filter down by make and by model, to get a really granular look at just Grand Cherokee buyers, or the wacky Prius owners [like me], and so forth.  The insights are really fascinating. 


The Rubber Meets the Road

Even more exciting: The use cases for this data are many and powerful…here are some off-the-cuff questions this data will be able to answer: 

  • What do new vehicle buyers of my franchise respond to in my DMA?  What about in my PMA?

    • What about used buyers…?

  • What’s the best sort of event / promotion / sponsorship I should run to keep my dealership top of mind in the eyes of the community?  In other words: What makes my customers really tick?

  • What sort of lease activity is going on for my brand in my DMA?  What about for conquest / cross-shop brands?

  • Is direct mail more effective for my prospects, or is direct email a better choice?

    • What about for one model vs. another model…are those customers different than the typical general franchise buyer?
    • And where do I draw the geographic line to really focus on one channel or another?  Maybe multiple channels are good in certain areas…
  • Should we be running *gasp* print ads in certain zips?

    • What about radio? TV?  Outdoor?
    • Or, is digital king of the hill with this crowd?
  • What sort of message should we run for certain shoppers vs. others?

    • What about one model vs. another?

    • What about the messaging for shoppers of a brand we want to conquest?

    • What about the best message for on-brand shoppers in my competitor’s PMA?

This is just the tip of the iceberg…what use cases can you think of as a dealer, agency or vendor?  I’d love to hear…and, as those who know us know well, we work fast to implement features thanks to our great team running on an agile development process.


What’s Next?

I can’t leave a conversation without throwing at least a nugget out there as a glimpse into the near future, so what’s the next challenge for String’s intrepid agile engineers? Retrofitting the Vehicles tab in the DPS to combine market- and dealer-specific vehicle demand, supply and competitive intelligence to:

  • Identify gaps in your inventory and show you what to stock

  • Uncover competitive opportunities in your local market

  • Move the inventory you already have more quickly

  • Tie all of the above in seamlessly with the rest of the DPS to allow us to tell you the whole story of who, what, where, how and why, in real time and based on the best insights in the industry.

  • After that, you, your agency, and your team will just need to execute

We’re already underway with the next challenge. It’s been a busy summer, and it’s going to be an amazing autumn.

Topics: auto dealer analytics, dealer positioning system, data for dealers