Saturday, June 28, 2008

Brand Embrace: What Will it Take to Get You in this Car Today?

Every so often I get the itch to buy a new car. I am quickly reminded as the process begins why I despise the car shopping and buying experience.

This week I wanted to take a peek at the new 2009 Nissan Maxima. From the pictures on the Web and write ups that have been done, it looked like a real sweet ride. I called one of the dealers a few days ago to see if it had was in and they told me it would not arrive until the first week in July.

When the salesperson asked my name on the phone I gave it to him.

When he asked me for my phone number, I declined and said there would be no need to call me. I explained that I was not in a hurry and would check back in July.

A couple of days later I was surprised to have received a call that the car had arrived. The salesperson had lifted my phone number from his caller ID and called despite not receiving my permission to do so.

Now knowing the car was beginning to arrive at area lots, I decided to take spin by a competing dealer on my way home from work. After the test drive the salesperson and I sat down to discuss the car, what goodies I would want, and then get into my favorite part, haggling about the price. If you haven't been car shopping, or not familiar with the process, it is always the same. The salespeople never do the deal themselves and there's always the token sales manager that comes over and welcomes you to the showroom and proceeds to act like your best friend.

It's really quite ridiculous.

The sales manager then goes through the same line of questioning that the salesperson did, and then leaves to work up the deal. I love this part. I often wonder if they are heading to the back to finish their dinner. There must really be a lot of hard math associated with pricing out a car.

It's really quite ridiculous.

After about 15 minutes, the sales manager comes back and proceeds to tell me the car's price - which caused me to nearly have a heart attack. While the car is very new, and not all the pricing information was available yet at the dealer, he quoted me a price that was $1850 above MSRP. When asked what the $1850 extra cost was he said it was a "market adjustment fee."

Really? A market adjustment fee?

According to the sales manager they placed this "fee" on top of every price they quote.

Nonsense. Pure nonsense.

I reminded the sales manager of how soft the economy is and that working a deal might be in our mutual best interest. Despite my best effort, this was his best price and I headed for the door. As I was walking away, I could hear the sales manager and salesperson joking about their experience with me, which caused me to turn and confront them for being incredibly rude. I love to negotiate and in this economy price needs to be addressed on every major purchase. I just couldn't believe that they made it so I would never buy a car from them.

This post is not so much about my experience with the first dealer who called me without my permission (see Seth Godin - Permission Marketing), or the second where they were so blatantly rude, but more about embracing your brand and living up to public perception.

Not getting it?

Let me explain - keeping with the car dealer stories...

In Philadelphia, where I lived before coming to Circuit City HQ here in Richmond, VA, there is well-known car dealer by the name of Gary Barbera. When you pull up to Barbera's - as we call it Philly - it is car dealer personified. The lot has streamers and balloons and at times a giant blow up gorilla in the front. Their tv and radio spots are the typical dealer ads where they scream at you how great their deals are. When you walk into the showroom, loud music plays, and you know it's going to be a contentious battle with the folks that work there. While I have never bought a car from them, I commend them on embracing the "car dealer" public perception with in-your-face, clutter-busting ads backed up by a raucous experience when you walk in the showroom.

With my experience at the two dealers cited here, I was not expecting that type of behavior from them - even though the brand of "car dealer" says I should. Their ads and their Web site talk of "...a pleasant, informative, and professional experience..." and "climate of trust."

Unless you have unlimited marketing budget, it probably makes sense NOT to try to spend money to change public perception of the industry you are in rather, embrace it and exploit it. Your dollars will go further and your customer experience will be more manageable.

Make sense?

Oh, and that itch that I had? I don't think I'll be scratching it anytime soon.

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