Stylish, exciting and successful or practical, sensible and safe. Which is nuts, really, because in a world of increasingly commoditised products and services, today’s cars are a lot less different than they are the same.
Built by the same global conglomerates, often in the same factories, with the same chassis, the same engines and virtually all the same features, why are we prepared to pay a premium to get from A to B?
The answer, of course, is brand experience. When we walk into a showroom, we’re buying more than a car; we’re buying a brand promise. Audi is selling progressive luxury, Honda is selling the ‘Power of Dreams’, Fiat drivers are ‘Driven by Passion’, while a ‘Volvo is For Life’.
Typically, brands elevate themselves by selling a better product than their competitors, whether that’s perception or reality. In the automotive industry, key elements of a better product have always been performance, safety and reliability.
As the industry continues to mature, these three practical factors have become a given. With the number of technically great products on the market, the only way to differentiate is by something more emotional. Today, style and experience are becoming the key differentiators in a sea of sameness. Functional benefits will always inform purchases, but they are expected. We can get that with a budget car, but we will pay more for an emotional experience.
It’s a concept we’re more than familiar with at RRD Creative. We know a thing or two about creating a unique brand positioning and building a powerful brand experience around it.
What we’re finding across all the sectors we work in is a drive towards emotional experience. This can be achieved by creating a rich brand story around a drinks brand to command a higher price-point or by interrogating customer experience for a retail bank to make their service easier to use. Both are about creating a brand experience that ultimately encourages brand loyalty.
In all the sectors we work in, we are constantly looking around the corner to what the future holds. Consumers are more connected than ever before; they demand instant, personalised and relevant features, tailored to their lifestyle. In the financial sector, branches are being replaced by app-only retail banks. In retail, online shopping in no longer an extra but the main shop-front with augmented reality delivering virtual changing rooms.
Keeping track of changes to technology and customer habits is no easy task. For RRD Creative and agencies likes us, it means developing stronger partnerships with our clients to get under the skin of their businesses, customer segments, technologies and industry trends.
But spare a thought for the motor industry. Here, manufacturers and their marketers are having to prepare for the most monumental shift imaginable – where their primary audience of the last century is changing from a driver to a passenger. Welcome to the era of driverless cars.
In the future (which is a lot closer than you might think) it won’t be as relevant to talk about driver experience – we’ll be talking about the passenger experience. Performance, power and handling will be things the car can look after itself. Instead, the brand experience could be determined by such elements as comfort, luxury and entertainment.
And if the car becomes simply the ‘vehicle’ for all these softer features, are we about to see a shift in the industry powerbase? Will the tech and style companies see an opportunity? Will Google and Apple beat the automotive industry leaders at their own game? Is the iCar just around the corner?
We have already seen it in the sectors we operate. Our most successful clients are those who develop their businesses in response to customer need rather than product features. It’s probably no surprise that these clients (from global insurance brands and customer service organisations to drinks companies and artisan producers) also stretch us creatively and help us deliver our best work.
There seems little doubt that anyone working in the motor industry is going to be stretched too. Who knows, promoting power and performance may soon be as unimaginable as offering any colour the customer wants, ‘as long as it’s black’.
The recent shift towards eco-cars may seem like nothing more than tinkering in comparison. How will the industry cope with a fundamental change in its most enthusiastic audience segment from petrol head to techno geek?
And what if the current crop of manufacturers don’t have the credibility to deliver? Would you buy a smartphone from Fiat, or even Porsche or Jaguar? Meanwhile, as some manufacturers refuse to embrace change as more than a passing fad, many will surely experience their own ‘Kodak moment’ and disappear completely.
There are, of course, many more questions than answers, but one thing is certain: customers will always be emotionally driven. They will always choose a brand because it is a reflection of them, whether it’s a car, a bottle of gin or an online bank.
The most successful brands will always put the consumer at the heart of innovation, and create brand experiences that deliver against the consumer’s wildest desires, some of which they may not even be aware of yet.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to send out the car to collect the shopping.
Norma Gray is business development director at RRD Creative.
This article was originally published in The Drum Network's Auto Special. Please contact email@example.com for more details or to receive a copy.