So if you have read any of my previous blogs on Brand Trust you will know that last weekend was my make or break decision on whether I continued to buy Volkswagen following the recent emissions issue which confronted my trust in the brand. I am using this as a live analogy for aspects of brand trust we are currently building some real insight IP around.
The principle point of the last piece focused on how much time effort and money VW had invested in building trust and reliability as a real asset for the brand. Most consumers irrespective of their desire to actually experience the brand, know it is reliable, has a range of ‘solidly sensible’ vehicles with a long tradition and some iconic vehicle designs. VW in the face of the global emissions scandal chose nostalgia and loyalty to reinforce their brands place in the lives of their customers, and activated this with a ‘loyalty bonus’ through the dealer network.
Knowledge is one thing but most readers would say that experience is probably the most significant aspect in building trust in the brand – it’s the car business right and people buy from people! Right! However what is interesting in terms of the brand trust thought is that in the car business the experience is managed indeed controlled by a third party dealer network – so in the context of the brand owner messing up I was really interested to see what the customer experience would be like.
I had received a few ‘warm up’ pieces of communication saying how much I was valued as a loyal customer and that there was a great deal waiting for me – emails and letters arrived underlining this point with headlines about loyalty bonuses and great deals ahead. So I was prepared to discuss how I now felt about the brand and what I could or should do next … every salespersons dream prospect! (not!!) – the really significant part of this for me was I genuinely did not have another car as an alternative purchase in my head. I wanted to have a discussion about what I needed from a car this time round – some performance, with economy and a car which was easier to haul myself out of!
I am not writing this to give car salespeople a hard time but the point to make here in the interests of the brand story for VW was the single minded purpose with which the sales personnel set about selling me the car they wanted to sell me rather than discuss with me what car I wanted to buy. They were going to sell me the deal they had that weekend only on a Golf GTE because they were able to use a loyalty bonus plus an extra £2,000 VW were allowing dealers to use. I had said 3 or 4 times that I didn’t really see myself or desire to see myself driving another Golf but did this make one iota of difference? Not a bit of it. There was one car on the deal that weekend and it was a Golf, so a Golf I would be sold.
So when we think of brand trust and recovering where it is lost car manufacturers are slightly stuck – they can advertise (and we have seen what I thought of that in the last Blog on trust); but where it matters, in the fight to win back hearts and minds, is when the customer comes face to face with the brand representative. Here we saw no mention of the emissions problem, let alone an opportunity to acknowledge the mistakes made, no questions about how that made me feel as a loyal customer, no hint of the money available to make a car purchase more attractive being driven out of a need to keep customers – no the power of the deal was that it was available meaning I could buy a car I didn’t really want there and then!
VW need to maintain as much market share as they can to convince the markets that the scandal is passing and this example shows what happens when action is 100% sales motivated – the undermining of the brand trust is reinforced by what myself and others have perceived as slightly desperate action to maintain brand share. Perhaps if a little more thought and emotional intelligence (dare I say it even research amongst loyalists like me they would surely have discovered some real concerns and disconnections from the brand – much more damaging in the medium term).
So can a great customer experience rescue a situation like the one I face? Undoubtedly if it is developed with some level of emotional understanding and intelligence. This might sound out of context in the example I am using here – car salespeople are probably not considered by many readers as being equipped with high levels of emotional intelligence – the culture doesn’t permit it – however I would bet good money that the most successful individuals in a franchise are those who do possess intelligence in how to tap into the emotional exchange when such a significant purchase is on the table for consideration. Car sales used to be all about the numbers and conversion rates, perhaps a shift to being about how you feel about the vehicle and persuasion is an effective layer on top that can relate more to today’s consumer?
Academic research has found out that what people know and store away about a brand is significantly more effective in building trust in a brand than any experience they have. The multiplier impact of getting both aspects working cannot be overlooked in today’s market where consumer power is exerting itself in manifest ways. Knowledge about brands is stored in our fast access parts of the brain right alongside your own values and beliefs. In any interaction these knowledge points are activated at lightning speeds and flash subconsciously around our limbic systems, setting off an emotional response and a rush of feeling.
My view and the evidence we consistently find at The Buzzz is that people respond emotionally to brands. Whatever words you use there is a relationship between a brand and a consumer which has a range of characteristics and dimensions which are influenced by shared values, experiences and feelings. Human Beings are not thinking creatures who feel emotions, they are emotional creatures who think sometimes, and that balance has to be understood more effectively by brand owners and managers. The implications where you have diverse and distanced sales channels is that there needs to be much more effort and care in managing brand messages and an understanding of how the nature of the relationship consumers feel about the brand impacts directly on the way any sales activity should proceed.
Our world of marketing is changing and changing quickly – the old Baby Boomers (the ones who grew up with the classic VW ads of the 1980’s) have a whole new set of values and income to play with, while their children make decisions about cars in a wholly different way. As someone who is closer in age to the former but spends a career understanding the range of beliefs in specific markets, I walked away from the dealership, impressed by my test drive in a Golf GTE, but distinctly unimpressed by how I now felt about VW as a brand.
As a result I am now actively looking for my next car – if anyone has suggestions to offer, please get in touch with me directly or via Twitter @buzzzresearch