Most people leave the dealer lot with a smile on their face. Yes, the dealer experience is still lacking, the paperwork drags on and the final price is a bit higher than the customer had hoped for. But, in the end, most car buyers leave happy. They invested a lot of time and effort to find the right car and found the perfect match for their wallet and lifestyle.
While automotive advertising used to focus on features (210 hp, 0-60 in 5.3 seconds, et cetera), online has enhanced automotive marketing by offering immersive product experiences, such as the Interactive Showroom that my company, Genex built for Acura.
These experiences make it easier for consumers to get familiar with the car and all its features, saving a lot of time on the dealer lot. Most OEM sites feature extensive photo libraries, showcasing the car in any imaginable environment and lifestyle situation. And, on the horizon are more immersive experiences, more photos and more opportunities to allow the consumer to imagine ownership.
That part of the marketing equation is vibrant and evolving. But, more and more I feel we're in a rut.
There are many happy buyers, but marketers have not yet found a way to tap into this pool of happiness.
Yes, happy buyers will spread the word to their immediate family and friends. But, there are no automotive-specific sites such as Chowhound or Tripadvisor, where satisfied consumers can broadcast their opinions about their new car and the shopping and dealership experience they had.
Volvo tried it with the C30 site but it fell flat. And it's pretty clear why: Unless consumers have a lot of extra time on their hands or like to use posting opportunities to complain, there's no motivation to contribute.
The industry is waiting for an entrepreneur to take this opportunity and the existing pool of happy buyers by the horn and develop a social network discussing car, dealership and service experiences. Sure, we have sites like CarDomain or CarSpace but they are focused on enthusiasts and gearheads. What I'm talking about is a site that allows everyday drivers to talk to each other and share their experiences. Tripadvisor is not for hotel enthusiasts or brand evangelists. It's for travelers who want to share their experience with the world and, at the same time, influence the hotel industry to improve their product constantly.
While we wait for the innovative publisher to build this site, automotive marketers have immense opportunities to communicate the happy owner experience to people:
Automotive marketers tend to focus on the all-new aspect; the new features and gadgets, the new positioning. That might be good enough for the first year of the model, but it doesn't really work for the remaining model years.
Instead of focusing on features in the second model year, why not communicate the owner experience to fence sitters? Build a minisite that lets happy owners discuss their experience with the car. Syndicate this content out to the YouTubes, Flickrs and Revvers of the world and let the owners do the work. We tend to forget how passionate owners are about the brand and their specific model. If you get a chance, go to the next focus groups and listen to owners. See their smile when they talk about the car or how the Navigation System made their life so much easier. So why should we limit this positive feedback to focus groups?
At the minimum, you could add owner reviews to your site. But, please, allow owners to write the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It's not enough to display movie quotes like, "…innovative…" You have to let the owner talk and really share their feelings. But that's just the start: How about a minisite marketing your model in its third year by featuring typical owners of that vehicle. Show how they use the car, how they emotionally connect with the car or how their life changed because of that one feature. Love and authenticity is in the details. Allow owners to upload videos, share stories and connect with each other.
If you are afraid that your site might be overwhelmed by negative owner experiences? Well, then you have a bigger problem on your hand and should start talking to the product planning folks. Immediately. Second, you shouldn't worry too much. Even the Top 10 hotels on TripAdvisor feature negative reviews: The reviewer might be a bit too picky/cranky/a shill for the competition. Or the reviewer just had a singular bad experience. It happens. But it doesn't necessarily diminish a consumer's favorable impression of your brand. You might be able to interact with this reviewer publicly and change their perception by helping them fix the problem. Cha-ching. Another deposit in the brand bank.
Let's face it: Human beings are communicators at heart. That's why we love to share our experiences. You don't need to offer a prize for people to write about their car experiences. Just offer them a forum and they will come. And, as every study about word of mouth indicates: Any shared experience is much more impactful than any commercial, banner ad or billboard.
Uwe Hook is director of interactive marketing strategy at Genex. .