NEW YORK: Ford, the automaker, is leveraging digital insights covering sectors from fast food to electronics as it seeks to better understand the developing consumer path to purchase.

Will Neafsey, Ford's global consumer analytics and tracking manager, told delegates at the Advertising Research Foundation's 2014 Re:Think Conference about analysis it had conducted with Luth Research.

This study gathered insights regarding the automotive category, and equivalent material concerning how people researched and bought smartphones and pizzas – thus placing the findings into a deeper comparative context.

Based on data from 2,000 respondents relating to their perceptions and media consumption, the firm was able to ascertain the ways in which overall habits are evolving – and the specific shifts impacting the auto segment.

"The purchase of a vehicle is an extremely complex thing for most people," Neafsey said. (For more, including takeaways for brands and researchers from the study, read Warc's exclusive report: Ford draws insights from pizzas and smartphones.)

"What this is giving us a chance to do is actually look at that and try to understand that last ten yards of what happens between when I do all my rational research and then how I'm finally going a home with a new vehicle."

Indeed, focusing on the closing stages of the funnel – when consumers are turning into buyers – was especially important, as channels such as social media continue to transform established patterns of behaviour.

"We said, 'Look, at the last minute, there's a lot going on.' We need to understand what's going on at that point and what are they looking at," Neafsey said.

"Good diagnostics are starting to get to the dissection of what people are looking at."

Developing a fuller picture of the digitally-empowered audience also counters perceptions of "Ford as a bit of a rustbelt company that's always kind of looking in the past," he added.

"The reality is we're always trying to move forward."

Data sourced from Warc