Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Here's the deal - Trust Me!

The entire model of the concept of buying a car is waiting for an innovator who refuses to do it as it has always been done. We are waiting for the Richard Bransons out there to show us a better way. IKEA has done it in the furniture business.

One thing is for sure - there is a huge opportunity for someone out there to get it right. Imagine if your entire experience involves a combination of online shopping, hands-on testing and a totally customizable experiences for the consumer before and after the sale. It's true as Steve Woodruff, from the Branding Wire has said, that we all have our own horror stories and that in itself speaks to the negative brand image of retail side of the automotive industry.

Are consumers ready for a totally honest experience from auto dealerships? By that I mean - would we believe them at any level? I believe that to launch a new experience model they would first have to do some grass roots homework and earn the back the trust of the public. The auto companies have to offer their audience a major aha moment on this front. Saturn started it with their attitude towards the customer at the dealership level. Perhaps the Auto companies will have to take back greater control of the dealerships so that they can better control the brand experience and thus not allow a dealership to narrow mindedly do business as usual. In many ways the lack of trust is mostly at the dealership level. A lot of the brand building is done at the national level only to be later trashed at the retail level.

To control the service experience might be easier if they directed the entire delivery channel. The after sale aspect is even more important in growing that positive brand experience. I live in the Windsor, Ontario/Detroit, Michigan area. Dealers here have also become a little sloppy about a good customer experience. Because many of their customers work for the traditional Big 3, they can purchase on the "plan". which is a generous employee discount. So if they mess up the relationship with me - no biggie, there is always another customer on the "plan" coming down the road.

The people I do feel badly for these days are the dealerships who ARE trying very hard to make the customer experience compliment the brand. The public's historic distrust in them in general can only be a little less than that of a politician. TRUST is the number one common denominator with all the posts and comments we see here in this discussion. It is definitely the place to begin redefining the auto dealership's brand. It will also be the environment with which to position itself with an absolutely unique selling proposition.

They lost my trust years ago when they started telling me that it's not a "used car" but a "pre-owned car" and a "no haggle price" is better than negotiating for a better price. That told me of their regard for my intelligence. Trying to dumb-down your customer can never be good, I still bristle when I hear those terms and that's definitely bad for the brand.

P.S. This post is part of a discussion over at Branding Wire. It is orchestrated by our friend, Steve Woodruff. I am a guest writer this month on the topic of branding auto dealerships.

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