Why the car you drive is so important

Marketing is *every* aspect of the customer experience.

Rightly or wrongly, your clients judge you on every aspect of your personal brand. That includes the job you do for them but also how you handle their phone calls, the ease of dealing with you, the look of your invoice, your personal appearance, and even which company car you choose.

MX5At one time, I had a lovely little Mazda MX5. It was such fun to drive, and filled my heart with joy every time I got near it. But other drivers loved to cut me up at junctions and race me at traffic lights, and I was aware that it was a bit too flashy for my clients. They thought: “Hmph, if she can afford to drive a sportscar like that, perhaps she charges too much money.”  One or two of them said something like: “It’s obvious where my money goes”.

For a short while, I was driving a borrowed beaten-up VW Fox. I hated it. I worried that prospects would think: “Hmph, if she’s driving around in that old banger, perhaps she’s not very successful and therefore not very good at what she does.” I also worried they’d think I’d caused the big dent in the back. (I hadn’t.)

A few years back, I shopped around and selected an Audi A3 to represent my brand. It seemed to be a good, solid, executive car, not too flashy. It seemed that other drivers would give way to me at junctions, imagining I’m a more aggressive driver than I am. However, I would never choose an Audi again, because I had a bad experience when it was delivered to me.

The guy clearly didn’t think that a car like that ought to be driven by a woman. He said things like: “Oh, you’ve got quite high kerbs where you live; you’ll have to be careful when you park it”. (You can bet he’d never say that to a male customer.) And “I won’t bother to show you where the spare tyre is because you’ll probably just call the AA, won’t you.” (Wrong. I am perfectly capable of changing a tyre by myself.) I felt so insulted that I wanted to ask him to lie down in the road so I could test my forward and reverse gears over him.

The customer experience that Audi gave me was not consistent with their quality brand message. I, for one, will not be buying one again as a result, and wrote to let them know their delivery guy had lost them my custom forever. They didn’t reply.

In recent years, I reduced my company car budget, and currently drive a more girly sporty hatchback (the guy from Audi would probably approve). It’s a Seat Ibiza Chill. I like everything about it except the name. it’s a cheaper car, but I’ve been amazed by the quality of the customer service I’ve received from the supplier, WJ King in Bromley.

Every single time I’ve had dealings with them, every single person has been polite, friendly and helpful – a basic requirement you would think, but sadly rare. They exceeded my expectations when my car was serviced last week. When I checked it in, they said: “There’s been a product recall on the safety catch on the bonnet. Don’t worry, it’s nothing serious. We’ll replace it for you for nothing.” And when I collected the car, they said: “By way of apology for the product recall, we’ve given you a free pack of car shampoo and conditioner. You’ll find it on the passenger seat.” A few days later, they sent a satisfaction survey for me to complete, so they can measure how well they did. I really do get the impression that they care about my custom.

I wasn’t in the least bit bothered about the product recall, but I am deeply impressed by the way they handled it. I will happily choose my next car from WJ King, and often recommend them to people I know.

This article looks at marketing from both sides.

As a customer, these two car brands treated me quite differently, and you can guess which one has won my loyalty. As a supplier, I’m aware of the impact of all my behaviours on my clients, and work to ensure my brand values are represented consistently throughout everything I do. You need to do the same.

2 Responses to Why the car you drive is so important

  1. Mark Cooper March 30, 2013 at 8:11 pm #

    I have long held a view about the importance of the car you drive and the image it projects.

    I concur with the Seat brand having had a good experience whilst a Seat Leon owner.

    On a limited budget (and that includes a low annual mileage not justifying high expenditure) I believe a VW Golf is an excellent choice. In any guise or vintage it projects classy, dependable, reliable and practical.

    For the creative and artistic the Citroen brand shouts quirky and different. The Graphic Designer I use drives a SMART car and I like that.

    Jaguar, Range Rover, Porsche are three brands that spring to mind as being a very strong statement – and not always a positive one.

    I am an Independent Financial Adviser and drive a BMW. Quite a sensible one, a 320 diesel, steel grey, solid, dependable, reliable, financially secure but not ostentatious.

    A final thought and I believe a really important one is keep your car clean!

    You know those roadside caterers? The ones who park up in a lay-by for the day to serve their loyal traveling customers.Well, if you want to know about their food and kitchen hygiene, then If they haven’t bothered washing their car/van/4X4 lately, I doubt they have washed their hands or worktops either.

    Like it or not, we are judged, and judge others, consciously or not, by far more than the words we say or write.

    Great article.

    • jackiebarrie April 1, 2013 at 9:12 am #

      Thanks, Mark. I know many people who don’t like it when, say, an estate agent rolls up driving a Porsche, as it fits their belief that estate agents are paid far too much for doing too little. Also, I was talking to a salesman the other day who was told he mustn’t drive a car that’s better than his clients’.

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