BEIJING: Automakers in China must segment their target audience in different ways online and offline, a new study has suggested.

Based on analysis of social media buzz in internet forums and on Sina Weibo, the microblog, Nielsen, the research firm, reported 39% of posts discussed price, while 36% made reference to efficiency.

More broadly, it identified four types of web user which can be engaged by car makers, firstly in the form of "potential buyers" without a model in mind, and therefore seeking information and opinions about what to choose.

The second group was comprised of people keen to purchase a specific vehicle, and thus wanting detailed information. Customers who have recently made an acquisition were the third key cohort, with the chance to build loyalty a central goal here.

Finally, "grass-roots automobile experts" could be a valuable demographic to connect with, as their comments may exert a powerful influence on shopper decisions.

Nielsen also surveyed Chinese car buyers, and found design was the most important factor attracting their attention, on 25%, beating vehicle performance, with 22%.

The vehicle's interior was some way further back on 4%, while price received 3%, according to the company's figures.

Elsewhere, Nielsen revealed that respondents born in the 1960s and 1970s often emphasised brand image and the primary reason for using a car when picking between the various available options.

But 54% of their counterparts born in the 1990s - making up a large part of the social media user base - looked at safety, topping design on 47%, price on 39% and quality on 38%.

"Now is the time for car companies to begin a dialogue with this generation, listen to their ideas and better understand their needs and motivations," said Georgia Zhuang, VP for client solutions at Nielsen China. "The first mover has the opportunity to get ahead of would-be followers."

A majority of contributors were also considering buying an electric vehicle (EV), and 52% would be willing to a pay an premium of RMB24,763 for a "pure", rather than hybrid, car, up from RMB10,000 last year.

New technology appealed to many interviewees, as 58% stated that "telematics" like on-board navigation and geo-positioning were of interest.

"Night vision" systems logged 37% on this metric, while pre-collision safety tools scored 36%.

Data sourced from Nielsen; additional content by Warc staff