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Jim Saker: Stop selling car specs and start telling stories

Jim Saker

Some years ago, I was asked to research two car launches – one had been a great success and the other, despite the hype, failed to deliver.

Having spent a lot of time talking to both dealers and manufacturers it was obvious what had happened.  The first launch was very important to the company, as it was a replacement for one of their best-selling vehicles. The technical team and the marketing agency were under a lot of pressure to come up with an effective way of communicating all that was good about the new car.

Quite boldly, they decided to go for a narrative approach, which simply meant telling stories about the car. Stories such as why it was developed the way it was, why the controls were positioned where they were and how special design features were there to help those with limited mobility. The narratives were developed and the sales people were trained in the art of story-telling.

Following the success of that launch, the agency was in a quandary – what do you do for an encore?  

This time, it moved away from the narrative and went into technical benchmarking, bombarding the dealer staff with product information it believed would interest  the customer.  

Unfortunately, neither the staff nor the customers seemed enamoured with this approach. The salespeople had been successful when engaging the customers with stories, but struggled to make the technical stuff interesting for the customer.

Why is this relevant? An interesting piece of data came from one of the recent surveys published on AM’s website that stated only 32% of 18- to 24-year-olds would be comfortable buying a car without face-to-face guidance from a dealer. This implies that 68% do want some form of personal interaction.

The most digitally savvy age group in the population are looking to talk to dealer staff. The question is – what about? They already have access to all the online technical data, they have undoubtedly visited comparison websites, they will have gained the views of friends and family – what else is there to talk about?

A powerful story sticks in the mind longer than technical data – by providing an interesting narrative that can be shared, we add a unique value to the interaction.

Giving customers stories they can tell about their new car gives them responses when friends question their purchase decision. It provides a weapon against post-purchase dissonance and gives us something meaningful to say to well informed, information-empowered customers.

Maybe the time has come to again start telling stories about our cars, to offer an insight that is not available online.

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