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The Missing Link in Automotive Marketing and Advertising

Let’s make a guess that about 70% of people who have purchased a new car are happy about their purchase.  One would hope that it’s higher … but for the purposes of making my point, let’s keep it a bit lower.  People buy cars for a variety of reasons, from design appeal to safety to brand loyalty.  There’s no single reason for buying a car.  Yet most of automotive advertising is focused on selling a reason.  The problem is, that reason might not be the one that is relevant for a target customer.  Interactive experiences online where you can get a complete picture of a car or fleet of options are a much better way to go.  They let customers hone in on what attributes they are interested in, and drives (um, no pun intended) them to come into a dealership and test drive a car.  Those who test drive are much more likely to buy.  This is not a difficult strategy.

What’s missing is the dialogue that other sectors are realizing is the most important.  Right now, as a car buyer, if I am satisfied with my purchase, I would probably tell my friends and family if they asked – but not necessarily broadcast my opinion.  Yet this opinion is what could be the most compelling reason for someone to purchase the same car I own.  It’s basic word of mouth marketing, but most automotive marketers do an awful job of fostering it.  John Bell recently pointed to Volvo’s efforts to engage in a dialogue online around the C30.  For good reason, he found it lacking – there is no compelling reason to contribute to this dialogue unless you are unhappy, seeking revenge, or simply commenting on how the car "looks nice."  How many current owners of the C30 are motivated to go to the site and talk about their experience?  Probably none. 

Yet if the voices of those happy C30 owners (of which I presume there are more than a few) were included on this site rather than fake comments, it could be so much more powerful.  The missing link mentioned in the title of this post is the incentive for current owners who are happy with their cars to share this opinion widely and vocally.  Word of mouth marketing is not just about hoping people tell their friends and family about something and attributing a category and name to the phenomenon when it happens by accident.  It’s about finding the satisfied customers that are willing to broadcast (or microcast) their opinions and giving them the tools to do it.  Imagine if a fraction of the marketing spend automotive advertisers poured into TV advertising was spent on this.  John (and I and many others) might at least be far more likely to consider the Volvo C30 for our next car purchase …

7 thoughts on “The Missing Link in Automotive Marketing and Advertising”

  1. Good point. It’s all about building a ‘toolkit’ of marketing assets that you can seed to the most influential community members. The automobile category is challenging in that, as you point out, test driving is often times the straw the breaks the camel’s back. So if one of the key purchase drivers (no pun intended) is trial, then the question becomes: how do you empower satisfied owners to carry forth your message (aka their happiness) to a group of consumers who have, by this point, included you in their consideration set (yet have not resolved themselves to a test drive)?

    Jeep has done a pretty good job at this. They’ve employed a strategy of targeted lifestyle events in key markets that are intended to bring together current Jeep enthusiasts for a day of off-roading, music and food. While these events are essentially exercises in customer retention, they also attract non-Jeep users who are simply interested in a day of fun and off-roading. So what you’ve now got is a group of enthusiasts and a group of prospects together enjoying a lifestyle event, all under the Jeep banner.

    The point is … Jeep knows that they are not just selling specs, but also a lifestyle. And by flaunting their most enthusiastic customers, they are building a bridge to high-potential new customers.

  2. You must think outside the box (or should I say the world of marketing).

    Take a look at – an independent forum with plenty of useful and objective feedback from real C30 owners as well as prospective C30 owners.

    That’s real word of mouth marketing. People want to check independent sources, not suppliers sites.

    Incidentally I’m certain Volvo is aware of the site and monitors it.

  3. Hello Rohit:

    There was an interesting article in Brandweek a couple of issues ago that discussed car marketing and the dealers’ model. It addressed some of the issues you do here from the perspective of why we can select a car model and preferences online, yet we still need to go to a dealer to order and get the actual car. It also included information about the costs of national advertising and regional/local on top of that for the dealers.

    Automobile advertising, especially the local kind, is the least enjoyable, most intrusive and easiest to ignore kind. The experience of driving a car is most important when making such a big purchase (or even leasing). Two close friends bought from my car person (Pat) after talking with me about my experience. And Pat sends all his customers a newsletter with tips and referral coupons religiously.

  4. Paul – this is a great example which I had not seen. Thanks for sharing. You’re right, sites like this will continue to pop up and sometimes the best a brand can do is to get out the way and let those sites do what they do by offering a forum for people to share their passions about the car. The most interesting thing, though, is that I suspect if Volvo reached out to some of the enthusiasts in the C30world forum, they would be welcomed and might even be able to authentically bring some of the real comments and experiences available on that site into their marketing efforts.

  5. [quote]ohn Bell recently pointed to Volvo’s efforts to engage in a dialogue online around the C30. For good reason, he found it lacking – there is no compelling reason to contribute to this dialogue unless you are unhappy, seeking revenge, or simply commenting on how the car “looks nice.” How many current owners of the C30 are motivated to go to the site and talk about their experience? Probably none.[/quote]

    You sir are out of touch. The informed customer and or automotive enthusiast is well aware that there are sites out there dedicated to brands and brand specific models. These sites have existed since the advent of the internet.

    Could car companies be more savvy and utilize these sites? They already do! stop by some time and see if we can’t answer any and all of your questions then maybe you might decide to make that purchase after all.

    Incidentally, the designer stops by the site and post comments from time to time. How much more in-tune with the customer would you like Volvo to be?!

  6. Thats absolutely right in the marketers’ perspective of view, but coming to the consumers, the process of passing down the message of company’s good will or the client’s own happiness or satisfaction from the good again depends on whether the person is talkative or not! Mostly people do say about the vehicle they use, give its pros & cons to the other “going-to-be” consumers but it all just happens One cannot make it sure that it works well with every customer/client well it all matters on every aspect as i said earlier



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Rohit is the author of 9 books on trends, the future of business, building a more human brand with storytelling and how to create a more diverse and inclusive world.


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