Configuring a Car in the Digital Age
As a case study in better understanding the car-buying experience for consumers, I’ve begun my own search for a new vehicle and am documenting the experience in a series of blog posts. The goal is to identify where in the journey the automotive industry can improve the experience with modern digital marketing, and examine the overall process for gaps in the transition from one phase to the next.
The Great Configurator
The first step in my car-buying process was to do some research. There were a few car brands that I was initially interested in and some that I wasn’t. I added one from the “not-interested” list after looking through some material and being intrigued by the “experience” that they were selling. After settling on four brands, I went to their sites and began the process of configuring my car.
In today’s day and age, it’s expected that customers should be able to choose the smallest details about their new car. After all, it’s the second largest investment most people make besides their home. However, I found myself to be overwhelmed by the number of available options to choose from. I don’t really care what the engine looks like, I just want it to run!
There were some packages with certain options for things like cold weather, but I didn’t find any that suited my exact needs without having a number of extraneous add-ons towing along for the ride. All the while the price tag increases, and in the end I felt like the car I was looking at was not necessarily what I wanted and certainly not in my initial price range.
Another thing I noticed was the conspicuous lack of a back button on many of the sites. It was hard to compare different packages side-by-side, and once something was chosen it was nearly impossible to backtrack and fix a mistake or try another configuration. Once you’ve passed the point of no return, the only option is to quit and start over. I think I ran through one site four or five times before settling on a configuration I liked, and the use of a friendlier interface for choosing and comparing options would have been helpful.
A Digital Marketing Viewpoint
I think the automotive industry has a lot to gain from integrating digital marketing best practices throughout the car-buying experience. The majority of consumers want a friendly interface that helps them make decisions and is easy to use. While the option to select the minutest detail of your car should be available, it might not be the best experience for the majority of consumers who may not know all of the ins and outs of the buying process.
The configurator should be developed to be more customer focused. Instead of being shown a carte blanche menu of all available options, the configurator should be smart and ask you the questions to help figure out what car best fits your needs. It should be a trusted advisor that helps you along in your journey.
One example would be digital suggestions based on a series of questions about what you are looking for in a car, such as seating, gas, mileage, and type of driving. This helps narrow down the types of cars and options you are looking for right away, before you’re even shown a drop-down menu full of various auto accessories.
Once you are in the selection process, perhaps there is timing built in that prompts you if you need more information if you were to hover over a specific part. You could then be directed to resources on the part you’re looking at, including the different options and benefits. Once you’re educated, maybe you’re redirected to the cart blanche screen to fine-tune the order.
Another important fact revolves around authentication. A user should never need to login in order to run a configurator, as the tools must be freely accessible and not have a high barrier for interaction. However, users should be able to create an account to save their configurations, have their profiles available for a better customer experience downstream, or simply be able to login back in later and compare different configurations. This could mean the customer returns a week later and logs in to find the previously configured car is still waiting, perhaps with featured accessories or special offers.
Or the information could be used for retargeting the customer with ads from the supplier across other platforms like desktop or mobile. It’s important for consumers to get real value from registering, otherwise they might feel targeted by the business, which can erode trust.
This is a crucial barrier to bridge, where the consumer changes from an unknown to a known entity. This relationship will shape future interactions and allow original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to offer insight into the consumer’s buying process with truly relevant content. This is where OEMs can scale their efforts with targeting and campaign automation to help build and nurture the consumer journey.
Now there are some sites out there that provide a great experience and capture many of the benefits outlined above. There was one particular brand that I had an amazing experience with. This company asked me a few questions and had me narrowed down to five different packages within minutes of using the site. After selecting one, an offer was sent as a PDF to my email and I received a call within 12 hours to schedule a test drive. Once the date and time were set, I received an email calendar invite from the dealer saving the date for my test drive.
Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait until the next blog to hear about how the experience at the dealer went.