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DealerTalk: Understanding why people buy cars

(Posted on Jul 13, 2013 at 12:37PM )
Understanding the “why buy” motivations in potential buyers can have a major influence on the methods your dealership may use to entice these buyers to buy from you and not from the dealership down the street.

Recently I viewed a number of YouTube videos presented by Simon Senek, a motivational speaker, Columbia professor of communications and author of 'The Golden Circle' and 'Start with Why'.


Senek speaks about how most companies normally approach the act of sales and marketing from an 'outside-in' perspective.


Let’s use a dealership as an example:

•    What they do    = We sell cars
•    How they do    = We employ floor salespeople and list vehicles online 
•    Why they do     = We do the same as our competitors

Senek maintains that great companies - and he uses Apple as his example - operate in exactly the opposite way. In other words, they work from the 'inside-out' - for them the sequence of events will be:

•    What they do = In everything we do, we challenge the status quo
•    How they do   = We make our products user-friendly, cute to own and attractive
•    Why they do   = Want to buy one?

In Senek’s world, his belief is that companies should think in terms of having a goal of “doing business with people who believe what you believe”.

When you apply this to a normal customer/dealership relationship it is a process that may not find universal acclaim, as standard practice would be to sell potential buyers what you have - such as that well-priced, high-spec demonstrator. It would not be to sell to potential customers who believe what you believe! 

Bear with me, as I know it also was a tad confusing before I got my head around the argument when I attempted to apply this thought process to a dealership setting. To assist the simplification of this process for a typical dealership setting I was able to draw on the work recently conducted by Cobalt’s corporate storyteller, Jade Makana, in her recent e-book entitled 'Defining Your Dealership Why'.  

A comparative approach to dealership marketing outlined by Makana may be:

Dealer A who adopts a rational thought processes to marketing


* We sell the car you want


* Our cars are on sale


* We offer zero percent financing

Dealer B who adopts a why buy feeling approach to marketing


* Come in and enjoy a pressure free environment at XYZ Motors as our consultants are paid on salary not commissions. Why? Because we believe pressure belongs in your tyres not your car buying experience, or


* Come buy a car from XYZ Motors and get free tyres for life. Why? Because we believe in lasting relationships, not drive-by sales. We want to know your name, not just your credit card number, or


* Come buy a car from XYZ Motors, where $100 of every car sale goes to Child Cancer. Why? We support worthy charities in the hope that you will do the same.

These extreme examples listed above are used for illustration purposes. Dealer B gives up trying to concentrate on commodity features in favour of concentrating on a value proposition - what he believes and why he believes in it, these are his core value propositions. 

He does not concentrate on price or models as they are not a why. For Dealer B it becomes second nature for him to strut his core beliefs and incorporate these into his everyday business. It is what Jade Makana refers to as "a dealer walking the why, will create customers for life”.

To understand why we buy with our feelings we need to look at our brain. The brain is made up of two major parts: the neocortex and the limbic brain. The neocortex or the “what” brain processes rational thought or facts. This is the logical part of the brain, but it does not drive behaviour. 

The limbic brain or the “why” brain is where all our feelings and instincts are stored - it is the driver of behaviour. Hence, potential customers buy with their feelings.

When you think seriously about the why in marketing to potential customers it is far easier to differentiate yourself from your competitive dealers. Jade Makana demonstrates two US dealer examples as marketing case studies, they are:


* Carter Subaru, based in Seattle capitalise on Subaru’s “why equity” and on the brand's core marketing message of safety and responsibility.


Carter Subaru’s campaign is to plant one tree for every test drive, and to plant three trees for every vehicle purchased - and they proudly promote the fact that, to date, they have planted 70,000 trees!

* Sewell Automotive based in Dallas and headed by Carl Sewell has a simple and revolutionary 'why buy'  message. “Do not charge customers for any service you would not charge a friend for”.


Sewell dealerships have on-call service reps 24 hours a day, who are known for doing things like showing up at Dallas Airport at midnight to replace a broken key in a customer’s ignition, for free.


The morale of this story in Makana’s opinion is: “Sell a car at rock bottom price and tomorrow they will leave you for the next great deal. Bail someone out of a jam in the middle of the night and you have a customer for life”. Sewell has expanded his business from 1968 revenue of $10 million to just over $1.5 billion today.

I leave for your perusal the following four dealership examples Cobalt offers as 'why buy' best practice:


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