The car-buying cycle is long and the period between awareness and purchase can span many years. The marketing cycle for luxury cars stretches even longer: a successful luxury brand must plant seeds of aspiration very early in a consumer’s life.

Reaching the right consumers in this “pre-luxury” state (and sowing seeds of desire with the right audience) can be difficult to do in a strategic, cost-effective way.

Let’s explore how a brand like Mercedes-Benz might do just that. If we measure the crossover between the young “College Millennial” life stage segment and several competing luxury auto brand audiences, Mercedes emerges with the highest audience overlap:

Mercedes may have a smaller U.S. presence than the others, but College Millennials already are engaging with Mercedes more, relative to other luxury brands: They are researching Mercedes models, visiting Mercedes.com and even leasing its cars. If Mercedes wants to take advantage of this edge it has with this age group, where should it begin?

Build a Desired Segment

Based on real, targetable segments we can layer a unique audience for Mercedes to reach:

The first two segments are a given. The luxury segment was added to cast a wider net. Ideally the pre-luxury audience is interested in Mercedes cars, but expressing a more general interest in other luxury automobiles at an early age also provides an opportunity to poach future customers from the likes of BMW or Porsche by nurturing this relationship early.

Understand the Audience

Profiling this unique “pre-luxury” segment reveals that many of them actually are older Millennials (not 18- to 22-year-old college students at 4-year universities), and slightly more female:

Segment based on combination of Hitwise Auto segments, Luxury Auto segment and College Millennial LifeStage segment. Learn more about how to activate these audiences here. Audience profile pulled over 4 weeks ending 8/19/2017.

Craft the Campaign

Now Mercedes has the ideal pre-luxury segment and knows a lot about them. Next it might build a series of creative display campaigns based on what it knows following these guidelines:

•Speak to both genders: This group is split nearly 50/50, so Mercedes might want to create separate campaigns tailored to both men and women.

•Diversity of audience: This segment is more likely than average to be Hispanic or Asian, so incorporating a diversity of representation in its creative is important.

•Focus on flashy: The pre-luxury audience cares deeply about appearances, ambition and (of course) having a fast car. Mercedes should ensure the visual creative depicts its cars with head-turning levels of sleekness and horsepower.

•Eco-friendly: They are Millennials, after all. Mercedes might consider creating a display campaign to promote its upcoming electric concept car, the compact EQ brand, to this segment. That way it will sow seeds of interest among a Millennial audience that likely is to become the main target market for the Mercedes EQ in the future.

The bottom line:

•Profile the audience attributes of competing car models to find new targeting opportunities.

•Compare the audience composition of two competing car models to identify characteristics that are unique to your audience.

•Look for a group that is more engaged with your car model than your competitor’s.

•Identify unique segments to target, rather than activating the same canned auto segments your competitors likely are using.

Rochelle Bailis is director-Content & Insights at Connexity's Hitwise. She directs global content marketing strategy, email campaigns, lead generation & nurture, editorial calendar, data visualization, social media, and industry reports on retail, travel, finance, news & media.