Documenting a Consumer’s Car-Buying Journey
The Journey Begins
This is the start of my journey. My mission? To experience in depth how the average automotive customer feels as he or she navigates the car-buying process. This process is separated into several discrete experiences which encompass marketing, sales, after-sales, and renewal. Unfortunately for the consumer, these experiences are often disconnected, which results in a poor brand experience overall. This problem is not brand specific. It is pervasive across the majority of car companies out there. To document this experience, I will be writing about my own car-buying journey over the next few months and hopefully provide some insight into how car companies can improve their customer experience.
Consumer Experience Done Right
For the majority of households, purchasing a car is the second largest investment they’ll make, next to buying a house. However, this experience is often much less personalized than less investment-driven purchases like buying an iPhone from Apple or ordering a movie from Netflix.
Let’s take Apple for example. Buying an iPhone is a great experience from end to end. The marketing, sale, and after-sale experiences are linked together, leaving a unique and positive experience that builds brand loyalty and results in return purchases, word-of-mouth referrals, and increased profit.
I know many will complain that a) you cannot compare buying an iPhone with buying a car and b) Apple forces its customers to engage with the company within a closed ecosystem, and that’s not quite the same as the car-buying experience. Although these points are valid, regardless of product or price, Apple creates a relevant customer experience and controls that experience from end to end, even if it means locking down the ecosystem and turning it into a business model for selling relevant content and services.
Apple is keeping the client engaged and excited to experience the next step in the brand’s delivery on its promise. The company makes sure the consumer has all of the information needed in the marketing and sales phase, personalises the experience during the sale, and then engages with the customer to make sure the product experience is as good as it was made out to be during the marketing and sales phases.****
Through constant technology updates, Apple keeps its products modern and relevant, enabling the customer to be at the edge of the technology trend. This creates a strong sense of brand loyalty, which makes new products irresistible to customers. Apple has capitalized on this loyalty by setting its own renewal time of two years. Apple has built a culture where customers “have to have the new one” in order to be relevant with the culture. In addition, the company provides a full set of additional products that are fully compatible with the iPhone and supported within the Apple ecosystem.
All this brand development goes on for a product that sells for around 700 EUR, depending on model and market. So my question is this: if Apple can create such a great experience across the entire consumer journey, why can’t original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) do the same? With our cars the second largest investment besides real estate, we as consumers should expect more than what we currently get—a disconnected experience where we are constantly chasing the brand, the dealer, or the service technician to get the information or experience we’re looking for.
How to Start Getting It Right
Attention, interest, desire, and action (AIDA) is the old formula of sales and marketing. Although still valid in some regards, AIDA is incomplete in my opinion as it only paves a path to a single sale and doesn’t recognize the power of a happy customer to build long-term product culture and brand loyalty. OEMs are quite capable of building the brand awareness and loyalty that companies like Apple have, and really do understand how advertising attracts their target groups—at least from an advertising perspective. If the consumer has made a buying decision, he will buy that car from the chosen brand, visit the dealer, and go through the pain of ordering and waiting for a delivery date at some point. Once happily driving the new car, the customer will be experiencing the brand promise and the advertised product “feeling.”
But these steps are not integrated. They are not personalised and customised to the needs and requests of the customer. I believe we as consumers should expect that a brand that we choose to do business with will value us as advocates of that brand. Although OEMs believe they are doing great, the reality is that consumers are frustrated with the process as a whole.
In the next months I will share real stories of my experiences evaluating, choosing, and purchasing a car. My goal is to provide an objective perspective on the process and to document what works and what doesn’t from my viewpoint. I’ll also look at how it could be done better so I as a consumer would feel valued and excited to buy and drive that car. This will be purely from a consumer perspective—a consumer that does not live day in and day out thinking about digital transformation, but who demands respect and interest from a car provider that values me as a consumer.