Brands design complex journeys to move customers towards a buying decision but failure to spot the emotional trigger point for a purchase can leave prospects cold.

Author: Shireen Shurmer

The Shurmers are going green – we’re finally taking the plunge and are buying an electric car. So, with the inevitable pause while Britain locked down, we’ve spent a lot of time and energy this year researching our options and test-driving our shortlist.

As a communications consultant I’m involved in a lot of conversations about customer journeys and elevating customer experiences, so it’s always eye-opening to be on one of said ‘journeys’ from start to finish, and to be able to see it from both perspectives – that of the brand and that of the prospective buyer.

The first test drive involved a tiresome schlep to a mega-mall in west London to visit a shiny retail-style space clearly inspired by the approach of consumer tech brands like Apple and Samsung. To actually drive the car we had to go into the dimly-lit bowels of the multi-storey car park and take the car out into the stop-start London traffic – not the optimal test drive experience, by any stretch of the imagination. This left us irritated, frustrated and certainly delivered nothing of the emotion and excitement that you’d hope for from your first moment behind the wheel of the latest in electric automotive technology.

Undoubtedly the brand in question expects that a high-profile presence in a shopping mecca attracting its target demographic will drive brand visibility and product awareness. And maybe it will fulfil that objective. But for a serious buyer at an advanced stage of the ‘consideration phase’ and needing the final push towards the moment of purchase, for us the experience fell very flat.

The other manufacturer took a different route, inviting us to a pop-up event in an out-of-town exhibition space. The overall welcome was much more hospitable and the hangar-like exhibition hall, carefully lit to highlight the tantalising line-up of new vehicles waiting to be driven, delivered much more of the hoped-for ‘wow factor’. I’m no car nut, but I’ll admit to a frisson of genuine excitement as I geared up to get behind the wheel.

A slick face-to-face demo was all that stood between us hitting the tarmac in a convoy of cars behind a professional lead driver, who took us on an exhilarating drive though the Hampshire countryside, giving us a real feel for the car and its capabilities, in a significantly more inspiring setting than the elevated section of an urban highway.

It wasn’t perfect. There was definitely more that could have been done to elevate the brand element of the second experience: more impactful signage, some sort of introductory story-telling about the manufacturer’s credentials and some well-paced audio-visual elements to build anticipation in the welcome area. And, given the exclusivity of the live experience, there was no take-away, no collateral of any kind for us to remove and review at our leisure.

Not so much of an issue for my techie, digital-first husband, but it’s surely a strategic marketing mistake to overlook my considerable role in influencing this major family decision? By relying on sending Mr Shurmer the ubiquitous series of follow-up emails, I think the brand missed an important opportunity to engage me in any way after we left the test drive, or to give us anything that would have helped us do some enthusiastic word-of-mouth marketing with family and friends.

Two cars, similar specs, similar performance, similar price points. No doubt both brand marketing teams had deliberated for hours over the customer journeys they would create to promote these models, the precise messaging that would engage the target customer persona at each stage, the online and physical touchpoints they would encounter, and how these would work together to move customers along the path towards a buying decision.

But for me, amazingly, only one brand really understood that to love a car you need to drive a car. Even for my left-brained other half, this particular ‘moment of truth’ came down to how we both felt when we stepped out of the vehicle. My instinct says that if brands really want to fuel growth, it’s time to look beyond the marketing funnel theory and pay far more attention to the emotional triggers that will seal the deal. Pull on those, sensitively and at the right time, and the sale should take care of itself.

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