Facebook fail? Study finds salespeople, not social media, influence car buyers the most

Facebook fail? Study finds salespeople, not social media, influence car buyers the most

With the seemingly endless piles of money spent each year by the automotive industry for marketing campaigns, commercials, and social media outreach/presence, it might surprise you to learn (it certainly surprised us) that the dealership salesperson — not the websites, Twitter, or Facebook — influence consumers the most when buying a car, .

According to an annual study conducted by St. Louis-based marketing firm Maritz Research, and pointed out to us by Automotive News, that often pushy, scheming salesperson at the dealerships outdoes all other marketing avenues when it comes to influencing car buyers. While we may live in a digital age — where using the Internet is as commonplace as putting on a pair of shoes — it would appear that good ol’ fashioned human interaction reigns supreme over the Internet. Of course Maritz’s findings are in stark contrast to the widespread belief that people today rely almost exclusively on online resources when buying or leasing a new automobile.

Can it be true? As the old saying goes: The numbers don’t lie. Maritz’s research found that  21.89 percent of car shoppers in 2011 indicated that a salesperson had the biggest impact on their purchase or lease. Coming in second was family and friends, with 18.66 percent of people saying they relied on those close to them as their new car council.

Facebook Thumbs DownBut why? With so much information at our fingertips, why are more people not taking full advantage of all the Internet has to offer? “People buy from people,” Chris Travell, vice president and strategic consultant for Maritz Research, explained in a statement. He added that while online resources can certainly help “support the selling effort,” social media sites like Facebook and Twitter still fail to usurp more traditional methods. Furthermore, according to Travell, Facebook and Twitter were not influential at all in helping customers make buying decisions last year.

While we are a little surprised to see how high salespeople rank among influencing factors for car buyers, what we’re not so surprised to see is how much faith people place in those around them, and through word of mouth, a sentiment Travell seems to echo: “We look to those we trust for their recommendation, especially when the buying decision is perceived as having a potentially high risk, like in buying a new car.”

Interestingly, Maritz’s findings arrive at a time when social media is under increased scrutiny over the actual benefits paid advertising through sites like Facebook provides. Less than two weeks ago, General Motors decided to pull the plug on its paid Facebook advertising account worth $10 million, and shortly after that announced it would not have an advertising presence at next year’s Super Bowl.

Regardless, it’ll certainly be interesting to see what effect, if any, Maritz’s study has on the automotive industry. One thing is for sure: the folks over at GM will certainly feel vindicate. And who knows, other may soon follow suit. Of course this isn’t going to stop companies, automotive or otherwise, from advertising on the Web, but if trends like this continue it could change how they go about doing it.

Here is a look at how various sources fared in Maritz’s overall ranking from top to bottom:

  • Salesperson at the dealership
  • Family, friends and word-of-mouth
  • Consumer and shopping guides
  • Dealer and manufacturer websites
  • Third-party Web sites
  • Automotive magazine reviews
  • TV ads
  • Dealer or manufacturer brochure
  • Dealer or manufacturer-sponsored event
  • Newspaper ads
  • Auto shows
  • Direct mail from dealer and/or manufacturer
  • Newspaper reviews
  • Online videos
  • E-mail from dealer and/or manufacturer
  • Magazine advertisement
  • Facebook
  • Radio ads
  • Outdoor ads
  • Twitter
  • Chat rooms, blogs, online forums