Car buyers respond to computerized doting, study
Car buyers like it when car companies text them, according to a study recently conducted by Accenture. Keep in mind that Accenture is actually a spinoff of Arthur Andersen, the accounting firm
that helped Enron make billions of dollars in investor assets disappear overnight, so take the claim with a box of salt.
Anyway, the study found that car buyers are a bit nonplussed by the lack of social media engagement from auto companies, given how much they make use of social media when researching upcoming car purchases.
As seen in the complete infographic below, the study covered eleven countries; we're focusing on North American respondents here.
Consumers in general have become used to a certain level of personalized, customized connection via social media and mobile technology from the companies they patronize, at least those with a prominent and recognizable brand.
This expectation from the average car buyer may be one indication of a growing trend in the marketplace as a whole - the gradual erosion of the dividing lines between "affluent" and "mass market" buyers. For one thing, there's now a new category of affluent consumer called "mass affluent" - you guessed it, they're the more affluent segment of the mass market. But more importantly, social media and mobile technology are making possible a level of customization and personalized attention that used to be the province only of luxury brands. That's because it required the application of more sales personnel time to each customer, and all of those personnel had to be more carefully selected, more highly trained, and better paid than is the norm in the auto industry.
Now, of course, there are other ways to pay personal attention to customers, and the luxury auto brands have been out in the forefront of all of them. Automakers as a group have had a bit of trouble embracing media other than print; many still feel that print holds more visual appeal than digital advertising ever can. Rather than be left behind, however, several luxury automakers have been effectively combining print and digital campaigns by embedding QR scans into magazine and newspaper ads. They're seeking to help customers move from the "looking for inspiration" phase of car shopping, when they might flip through magazines, to the "picture myself in that car" phase. They're also seeking to boost the impact of their print strategy, as QR mobile codes have a higher conversion rate (6.4 percent, compared to 4.4 for print ads alone).
Why are the luxury brands out in front on this? Because personal attention has long been considered the mark of a true luxury experience, and if there's one thing the affluent like, it's being treated in a way that only the affluent are treated. They like knowing that they're in a different category than the random riffraff that usually clutter the space. It makes them feel special.
Maserati's and Porsche's QR codes take customers to a site that guides them through the process of building their own car. Porsche's codes also bring up a video that tells the story of the picture in the print ad (and of the Porsche brand). Both brands' sites also help customers find local dealerships, and Porsche's Car Configurator app can be used to customize cars on the showroom floor.
Mercedes also makes use of QR codes for its "360-degree approach," which combines print, mobile, and a Facebook Sim City game
A few high-end automakers are also using text messaging to communicate with current customers, to build and maintain loyalty and to enhance their feeling of a personal connection with the brand. BMW, for example, has used personalized text messages to remind 1,200 customers that winter was approaching
- had they bought their snow tires? The messages got a 30 percent conversion rate - which is astronomical for text-based marketing, even to existing customers - and generated about $500,000 in revenue. Customers responded not only to the practical reminder, but also to the pleasant feeling that BMW was looking after them.
This was a computer protocol, of course; it wasn't like BMW board members were coming around to customers' houses to make sure they were all right. But that doesn't seem to matter as much as the mere fact of how it feels to have your friendly neighborhood BMW dealer check up on you. Just want to make sure you're safe out there, ma'am!
While texting isn't generally thought of as a sales technique, as few people are likely to buy a car over their smartphone, it can open up new ways of connecting with likely prospects. Jaguar sends messages to prospective customers offering "exclusive 360-degree video tours" and "exclusive test drives." Because the messages only go to people who have opted into receiving them, Jaguar knows they will be welcome; yet the text "conversations" are initiated by Jaguar, making the customer feel sought after and welcomed in.
The smart thing all of these luxury automakers have done is to combine their mobile and social media-based campaigns with other media - so even if some of their customers aren't as connected, or don't care to use the technology for car buying, they can still get the message across. But if the rest of the market - you know, the riffraff - are going to start demanding personalized attention as well, the automakers may find they've got another problem on their hands. If customized social media and mobile interactions become no longer just the province of the affluent - if everyone can have it - then the luxury brands will have to come up with something else that isn't
available to everyone. Might I suggest roses?