Customers decide on big purchases very differently according to what digital channels they use to inform their decisions.

Automotive companies are using various digital channels to promote their brands, with varying levels of results. Depending on the auto maker, their core customers have different media usage habits. A study from last year shows the importance of optimizing social media strategies that can give a higher return for big-purchase brand marketing. This difference is well illustrated in The Media Audit's 2010 National Report, provided to eMarketer this month. Broken down by brand of car owned, the highest percentage of social media users were Audi, Hummer, Infinity and Saab drivers (between 69 and 68 percent). The lowest percentage of social media users were Lincoln/Mercury, Buick and Cadillac owners (43-38 percent).

Related research shows that over one-fifth of vehicle purchasers indicated that they were influenced by social media in some way. Depending on the sources that these customers used to make their decisions, differences emerged according to brand. Online reviews were comparatively less important to Toyota owners (seven percent) than to those of Fords (thirteen percent) or Chevrolets (eleven percent).

Even more disparate was response to earned media - only four percent of Toyota owners selected this category, while fifteen percent of Ford and eleven percent of Chevrolet owners did. This includes online, print and television advertisements.

Slightly less difference came from paid media, such as articles from online news, newspapers or magazines, as well as segments on national or cable television programs. Seven pecent of Toyota, eleven percent of Ford and fourteen percent of Chevrolet owners selected this category. These figures come from S. Radoff Associates "The Large Purchase Study" from December 2010.

These brands have acted on this information - Ford has aggressively been spending on digital and social media to promote the Fiesta. Global marketing VP Jim Farley is planning an "experiential" marketing focus "for the Lincoln nameplate," giving upscale consumers direct contact with cars.

By Ivory King