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.