When It Comes to Sales, Car Manufacturers Should Speak to Customers’ Emotions

December 04, 2018

When It Comes to Sales, Car Manufacturers Should Speak to Customers’ Emotions

Automotive companies need to shift their focus away from rational arguments in order to make the sale. With product presentations that evoke an emotional response, the tech sector is one step ahead in effectively reaching their customers. Using insight from behavioral economics, the following article gives three tips on how auto companies can improve their product webpages to resonate with customers.

A classic VW Golf can be purchased in thousands of different variations, and customers are able to customize their vehicle with a wide range of products and features. However, the sheer number of possibilities often ends up overwhelming them. The difficulty customers experience in making decisions when there are too many options is known as the “paradox of choice.”

In order to help customers in this situation, car manufacturers offer predefined configurations (trim levels and packages) to reduce the number of available options and limit complexity. While this does make the experience less daunting, car manufacturers could do a much better job at how they present their range of products online.

Behavioral economics shows that only very few buying decisions are made in a fully rational way. The table below summarizes the two distinct processes the human mind uses to arrive at its decisions. Seeing the image of a happy baby prompts an immediate feeling of cheerfulness. This automatic reaction based on emotion is the result of system 1. In contrast, system 2 thinking is slow, effortful, and conscious, much like the thought process involved in solving a complex equation.

Sell to System 1

People like to see themselves as rational buyers, but the truth is, system 2 only justifies the decisions system 1 has already made.

Consumer goods companies, such as Apple or Samsung, are very successful at communicating in a way that engages system 1. However, too often, car manufacturers try to win over customers with logical arguments that activate system 2 processing.

How to tap into system 1
System 1 needs to be activated to make the sale. A simple comparison of how five leading car manufacturers and five leading smartphone manufacturers advertise their top products online reveals that consumer goods companies are much more effective at engaging system 1 than most car manufacturers are.

1. Use visual communications
The easiest way for online marketing to evoke emotion is through visual communication. Large, eye-catching images appeal directly to system 1 and arouse an immediate emotional response. This is much more effective at reaching customers than using text to convince them with rational arguments.

Websites for flagship smartphones primarily advertise their product with pictures. On average, mobile providers cover 68 percent of the screen with graphics, in contrast to the 50 percent of the screen auto companies typically devote to images of their vehicles.

2. Only use one or two pictures instead of four or fives
It’s not only the size of the graphics that matters; the number of images displayed is also an important factor. The way companies present their goods online determines which of the two systems is addressed first. In case of system 1 - open the champagne, you have probably made a deal. In case of system 2 - better have good arguments. The more stimuli presented with the product, the harder it is for system 1 to process the information.

Car manufacturers tend to place around five different pictures on the landing pages of their flagship products. In comparison, most smartphone advertisements only use a single visual. The graph in figure 2 below displays the number of pictures per screen on smartphone and car company websites. Once again, the tech industry is a step ahead of the automotive sector, sticking to the old adage “less is more.”

Sell to System 2

3. Limit the number of words as much as possible
Consumer goods companies do more to engage system 1 processing than simply publish attractive pictures of their smartphones. A comparison of the amount of text printed on the landing pages of smartphone and car websites shows that smartphone advertisements only use 38 words on average per screen, while auto firms use close to 100 words. When system 1 is overloaded with too much input, it shuts down, and system 2 kicks in to continue processing the information. This prevents the potential customer from developing an unconscious emotional response. Fewer words lead to bigger font sizes, decreased density of information, and ultimately less complexity for the customer.

Sell to System 3

Conclusion: Appeal to system 1 first, then system 2
On the face of it, buying a car and buying a smartphone aren’t particularly comparable, as they are two very different products. However, both purchases require a high level of involvement from the customer, and the main principles of human processing still hold true. Car manufacturers should therefore try to address system 1 more effectively by appealing to customers’ emotions first, and presenting rational arguments and numerical data as a second step. Communicating specific information such as horsepower, velocity, and fuel consumption later in the sales process enables system 2 to rationalize the decision that system 1 has already made.


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