How Car Manufacturers Can Enhance the Customer Experience

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 to make the sale. With product presentations that evoke an emotional response, the tech sector is one step ahead with customer-centric sales. Using insight from behavioral economics, Martin Gehring and Fabian Bill share 3 tips on how auto companies can improve their websites to create a good customer experience.

A classic VW Golf can be purchased in thousands of different variations. 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 encounter in making decisions when there are too many options is known as the “paradox of choice.”

To help customers in this situation, car manufacturers offer predefined configurations (trim levels and packages). This reduces the number of available options and limits complexity. While the experience is becoming less daunting and more in line with customer expectations, car manufacturers could do a much better job at how they present their range of products online.

Behavioral economics shows that only very few decisions to buy a product or service 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. We compared five leading car manufacturers with five leading smartphone manufacturers and how they advertise their top products online. We found that consumer goods companies are much more effective at engaging system 1 than most car manufacturers.

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% of the screen with graphics. In contrast auto companies typically devote 50% of the screen 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.

Auto 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. We compared the amount of text printed on the landing pages of smartphone and car websites. We found 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. 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. This improves the customer experience and has an impact on how the customer interacts next.

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. Automobile manufacturers’ customer experience strategies should therefore try to address system 1 more effectively. The first step is to appeal to how customers feel. Then they should present 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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