A wide consideration gap exists today between the early-stage awareness of an auto site visitor and a consumer ready to purchase a car. According to a new Report from Forrester Research, Inc. (Nasdaq: FORR), vast, confusing carmaker sites squander tremendous marketing opportunities owing to misguided online strategies. But smart carmakers will reconfigure their Web sites with episodic marketing — a series of structured interactive experiences that substantiate decisions and guide consumers toward purchase.

The auto industry spends $42 billion per year on acquisition marketing — moving consumers through the shopping process from awareness to consideration to purchase. And even though auto marketers are enthusiastic about the Web’s potential, their focus on lead management and routine Web site upgrades alone won’t improve marketing effectiveness. Consumers are frustrated with manufacturers’ sites. Instead of crafting messages for relevance and impact, carmaker Web sites serve up dry specification tables and generic option descriptions.

“Auto marketers are missing an unprecedented opportunity,” according to Baba Shetty, senior analyst at Forrester Research. “Online car shoppers willingly offer up the most precious resource in the marketing world — focused consumer attention. Yet carmakers respond with vast, confusing, and unpersuasive sites. Successful auto marketers will streamline the process, creating a simple, intelligent, and direct path through the buying cycle — an approach we call episodic marketing.”

Episodic marketing uses intelligent apps to pull consumers step-by-step along the consideration gap. Auto site visitors go online with questions and concerns specific to their vehicle needs and position in the buying process. Episodic marketing responds with concise and compelling evidence — a customer-centric view of key selling propositions.

Through the end of 2002, the mission for auto marketers will be to move beyond weak experiences at current Web sites and toward robust episodic marketing. But by 2003, episodic marketing will move beyond the Web as interactive TV combines full-motion, full-screen video with interactivity to create relevant, powerful brand experiences for millions of households.

For the Report “Bridging Auto’s Consideration Gap,” Forrester conducted in-depth interviews with the interactive architects that help carmakers build their digital marketing programs. The agencies interviewed represent 25 of the 37 light vehicle brands sold in the United States.