“I'd rather be lucky than smart.” This age-old refrain, more than about winning the lottery, has become the driving dynamic behind how disadvantaged manufacturers market their cars.
If you've got the “smart” vehicle choice, you need only present your product and brand virtues. “Buy this and never look back.”
But if you're hawking the “other” brand, you better appeal to everyone's desire to be lucky. “Buy this car and win some free stuff.”
It goes something like this. Most people pick their model based on utility and their brand based on reliability. The assumption is that, in a competitive market, all similarly sized and contented products will have “competitive” pricing. So why buy, “as good as” when you can buy the real deal?
Great products reveal themselves through word of mouth, soaring resale values and repeat sales. Free stuff and price deals are for products with limited appeal.
Unfortunately, this scheme seems to have run out of steam. We have run the gamut of discount ploys and the consuming public now seems wise to this game.
What's next is anyone's guess, but this late in the game I don't suppose that the order of who's on top will soon change. After all, from cup holders to hybrid power trains, there are few “wows” on the horizon. With one notable exception: sincerity.
It is not a new buzz word. Sincerity, integrity and responsibility are ageless core values. Core values are not marketing strategies.
They are the defining elements of a company and its brand. The core values of a company remain intact when things go wrong. They are also the things that encourage things to go right.
Since the only thing that makes a difference in a mature market is what touches the customer in a way that makes him or her feel smart in choosing it, the moral of this story is that if there is to be change in the order of things in car sales, disadvantaged products must harness strong consumer reactions. If they are negative, they must be turned into positive sales agents.
The first step in turning a negative impression into a positive sales agent is to define yourself by it.
Lee Iacocca did this when he told America that he would back his vehicles better. By doing so, he turned concerns about product reliability into a sales benefit for his brand.
Rather than avoid the issue or wait for the product flaws to be solved or just throw discounts at it,
Iacocca hit the problem straight on and defined his product by the issue most prevalent on potential customer's minds. He took away fears by taking responsibility. He backed the cars and made the Chrysler warranty a core company value.
What could change the current sagging sales of some auto makers is facing their disadvantages head on and guaranteeing the public that their products will outperform a standard.
A sincere statement of responsibility is what is missing from today's failing brands. The good one's give us a reason to believe in them, the bad ones want us to take the risk on their self-serving statements that they are good enough.
Today's executives are fond of throwing a calculated discount at something rather than take responsibility for the uncalculated potential failure of their products.
If you question this, try reading the fine print on any of today's “limited” warranties. Need another example? Try determining the authority level of the factory representatives who interact with the public.
Until we sell reliable transportation rather than horsepower, we will be as limited as a guy who sells quarter-inch drills while not noticing that the public really wants quarter-inch holes.
When auto makers accept full responsibility for product performance, our sales people will accept full responsibility to represent those products.
It is either about “bucks off” and fine print, or it's about integrity. It can't be about both. The American car-buying public has voiced their opinions. All that's left is to listen and respond.
Peter Brandow is a veteran dealer in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.