Vehicle marketing language — how keywords on car sites influence your choices

vehicle marketing dealership
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Car dealers have always had their own language to describe vehicles for sale, and for the most part consumers know just a little bit of that jargon. But as market research has become more sophisticated over time, the keywords used to sell cars (or anything else) to you have also become more subtle, and in turn, more effective. Today, the idea of the stereotypical car dealer spouting over-the-top superlatives to describe his offerings seems quaint and funny, but only because you may not notice the psychologically effective techniques that are now in use.

Breaking down vehicle marketing language

CDK Global provides digital marketing solutions to automakers all over the world. When you hit a dealer’s website and you see an entire new and used inventory, complete with details and pricing, chances are good that’s all being managed by CDK. When you identify yourself in an online interaction, they company creates a profile of what you’ve looked at and what you like, so that when you go to the dealership they already know what you’re looking for. This is good for consumers as well as dealers – it helps the dealer connect you with the car you want.

car marketing woman driving

CDK has also gathered a tremendous amount of data about what works and what doesn’t work in auto dealer websites, and came up with some critical insights into the exact words that resonate with different groups of buyers. Auto dealers who use the right words in their online descriptions of cars have been able to attract more buyers, while those who use the wrong words lose sales.

Four big demographic groups

When it comes to buying new cars, there are four broad demographic groups that stand out: women, Generation X, new college graduates, and people with children. Obviously, any given buyer may fall into more than one of these groups or none of them, but people in these groups buy a lot of new cars.

Women tend to be more interested in the experience of a particular car than in the specifications.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution,” Jason Kessler, lead data scientist at CDK Global, said. “The needs of those graduating college are going to be much different than those of new parents. We were able to pinpoint specific words that shed valuable light on what vehicle traits matter most to women, Generation-X consumers, recent college graduates, and parents.”

The CDK study showed that women tend to respond positively to the words Drive, Power, Trip, Comfortable, and Luxury. Women tended to be turned off by the words Bought, Transmission, Owned, Bigger, and Cargo. The marketing analysis is that women tend to be more interested in the experience of a particular car than in the specifications.

Buyers in Generation X (people born between the early 1960s and early 1980s) preferred vehicles described using Truck, Power, Luxury, Package, and Performance. They felt less inspired by the terms Back, Seat, Design, Built, and Difference. Now that Generation X is in its peak earning and buying years, performance and luxury are becoming more important than utilitarian concerns.

New college graduates, generally Millennials, responded positively to the words Buy, Work, Truck, Power, and Highway, but were less interested in Company, Designed, Inside, Warranty, and Light. These are buyers looking at their first new cars, and they want to know that the car will work for them, rather than caring more about brand names or luxury.

car marketing holding keys

Parents were impressed with the words Truck, Leased, Row, Nice, and Purchase. They did not care for the terms Sounds, Buying, Control, Tech, or Company. Their preferences reflected the practical needs of a family car, rather than the lifestyle or luxury needs of other buyers.

Some of these preferences are easily understandable. A parent buying a family car is likely to be more concerned with purchase options than with the infotainment system. Other responses are more abstract, such as the Gen-X and Millennial aversion to the term Design. Dissecting the preferences of any group is far less important than simply knowing that the preference exists, however.

Magic words by type of vehicle

CDK didn’t stop with looking at groups of buyers. The company put some effort into looking at the words that appeal to any person buying a particular type of vehicle. It found that buyers of sedans, mid-size sedans, trucks, and SUVs all have different word preferences.

They found that buyers of sedans, mid-size sedans, trucks, and SUVs all have different word preferences.

Mid-size sedan buyers are interested in comfort, and they did not want to hear about Bluetooth, Simply (anything), Poor, or Test Drove. They wanted to see Luxury, Impressed, Freeway, and Quiet. Buyers of other sedans (most often compact sedans) were turned off by Tire, Warranty, Gas, and Test Drove. The compact sedan buyer responds to Passing, Climate, Friends, and Comfort, reflecting a younger buyer who will likely move up to a mid-size later in life.

Pickup truck buyers are a very distinct group interested in functionality. They wanted to see the terms Ride, Mileage, Trailer, and Reliable in a review. They cared less about Tires, Dealer, Seats, and somewhat puzzlingly, Engine.  SUV buyers are family buyers, and predictably wanted to read about Front (as in front seats), Price, Wife, and Rows (of seats). They did not want to see Issues, Mileage, Steering, or Turbo.

But what does it all mean?

Don’t take this information to mean that everyone in a particular group wants the same thing, or that you’re being unfairly manipulated by clever marketers. This research is nothing more than an unusually comprehensive study of what it is exactly that most car buyers care about, and an attempt to communicate those values back to them.

“We are always looking for the best ways to help our customers bring the right buyers into their dealership,” Kessler said. “By making subtle changes to the language used on vehicle description pages, dealers can help customers easily identify cars that they both connect with and fit their lifestyle needs. Ultimately, these changes will prime both dealers and customers for success.”

So the next time you go car shopping online, give a thought to how that car is being described, as well as to the car itself. You’ll probably see some of this work in action.

Product Review

‘Battlefield V’ shows up late for battle, but it's still unprepared

Battlefield V’s War Stories give us a new perspective on World War II, but the game’s lack of polish across both its campaign and multiplayer modes are almost impossible to ignore.
Mobile

Which smartphone has the best camera? We found the sharpest shooters

They say that the best camera is always the one you have with you and that makes your smartphone camera very important indeed. Join us for a closer look at the best camera phones available right now.
Computing

Why constrain yourself to one OS? Try one of these great virtual machine apps

Buying a new computer just because you want to utilize another operating system isn't necessary. Just use the best virtual machine applications to emulate one OS inside another -- no matter what your platform or budget is.
Wearables

The Michael Kors Access Runway smartwatch will soon be available in ceramic

Michael Kors has brought back the Access Runway name it last used in 2016, and this time attached it to a Wear OS smartwatch, complete with new tech, and a cool way of customizing the watch face, too.
Cars

Tesla appoints Robyn Denholm as chair, Elon Musk steps down

Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk agreed to step down from his role as chairman as part of a settlement deal with the SEC. Tesla has named a 55-year-old Australian businesswoman named Robyn Denholm as his successor.
Cars

Ares turns the Tesla Model S into a two-door roadster with Italian flair

Italian coachbuilder Ares has done what Tesla won't. It's taking a Model S, chopping off the roof, and sending the rear doors back to the parts bin to create a roadster that's ready for the French Riviera.
Cars

Ford buys scooter-sharing service Spin as it looks to expand beyond cars

Ford has acquired San Francisco-based scooter-sharing company Spin. The Blue Oval believes mobility services like scooter sharing can complement its existing car business going forward.
Cars

Bosch, Daimler team up to deploy autonomous Mercedes-Benz S-Classes in San Jose

In 1986, when Bosch and Daimler joined an autonomous car research project, the technology seemed overly futuristic. Now, the partners are aiming to make a production self-driving car by the early 2020s.
Cars

Thinking of driving for Uber? These cars are safe, comfy, and fuel-efficient

Uber is a viable means for making money on the side, but you won't earn much if all of your profits are going direct toward fuel and maintenance. Thankfully, these five cars are a perfect fit for those looking to shuttle passengers from…
Cars

Ambitious but not rubbish: The best 'Top Gear' episodes

Since its relaunch in 2002, 'Top Gear' has become required viewing for any serious gearhead. The great moments from this show may seem too numerous to count, but we've managed to pick some of the highlights from the first 25 seasons.
Cars

Camaro vs. Mustang: Differences and similarities between two premier pony cars

The Chevrolet Camaro and the Ford Mustang are two of America's favorite sports cars. In this comparison piece, we highlight the main differences between the two machines when it comes to their design and performance, among other factors.
Cars

Roborace wants human drivers and machines to work together

Roborace believes the future of racing is autonomous, but it's keeping human drivers in the picture for now. For its first race season, Roborace will use a car called DevBot 2.0 that can be driven by humans or machines.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: 1-handed drone control, a pot that stirs itself

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Cars

Tesla raises prices and simplifies options on Model S and Model X

Tesla is making changes to its offerings of the Model S and Model X. The lower-range 75D models will increase in price, while the higher-range 100D models will decrease in price.