When your Customers Become an Issue

All my life I aspired to own a particular car brand. Where I grew up, there weren’t many around (it wasn’t the most affluent area) and I’d always loved the way they looked. So, I set my sights on owning one.

Now that I’m in a position where I’m considering which car to get, I no longer want that brand. Why? Not because the quality of the cars has changed – I still like them.

I don’t want that brand because of the other people who drive them. Whenever I get tailgated, it seems to be someone in one. Whenever I get cut up, it seems to be by someone in one (ok, a slight exaggeration, but it’s a very noticeable trend). I also frequently see drivers of that brand weaving aggressively in and out of traffic.

How does a company respond when its own customers, not its products or services, become an issue?

My thoughts: The solution certainly isn’t a purely branding-based program. Ads aren’t going to convince me – I might see an ad showing someone driving responsibly, but every time I’m out on the road I’ll see evidence to the contrary.

My initial inclination would be through a concerted effort to change the behaviour of customers through ongoing education – research to highlight peoples’ perceptions of irresponsible drivers; ongoing safe driving information for customers; partnerships with insurance companies etc.

What do you think?

  • Range Rover would agree with you (offering all new owners off road training). However, I would add that maybe the passion of childhood “aspiration” is just that… When shopping for a car as an adult other more practical concerns rear their head.

    Not saying that people who drive this brand of car aren’t ruining the brand for you… just suggesting that maybe it’s a combination of things? Maybe if The Stig did a killer lap time on Top Gear your aspirations would be reignited 🙂

    • Interesting idea, but (consciously, anyway) my impression is very much
      driven by an extremely negative perception of drivers of these cars.

  • I love the idea of ongoing education…an online and multimedia program that emphasizes good driving behavior…might be kind of cool for that company to run a consumer-generated video campaign where people videotape good/bad driving examples of people in those cars. “This is not a ____________ owner, THIS is.”

  • Andrea Pietkiewicz

    Ha, indeed somewhat similar to other brands suffering from image issues. Agree with you re: BMer drivers. While BMW suffers from the driven by a-holes problem, other brands suffer from a grandpa image they’d sooner not have, chickmobile image, etc. Years ago when I worked on a certain car brand whose tagline was Built for Drivers, I used to joke that it was, in reality, built for idiots.

    I’m not sure education is the answer. I like to think that we can change pwople only with great difficulty. A brand creates a certain image for itself through brand imagery that attracts a certain psychographic profile of individuals. The most efficient thing might be to re-engineer that image rather than the customer. Is this pessismistic/misanthropic of me?

  • Trudy Chapman

    Hey Dave,
    Its all about “the experience” one gets when relating with the car and its brand. Cars will draw drivers based on the marketing, but also based on the experience of driving the car from the way it feels to sit in the car to the product information provided by the car company (owners manual etc).

    I used to drive a Volkswagon Jetta… Everything about the car was both fun and responsible. The sound the door made when it “thunked” shut made me feel safe, as did the full-size spare. Yet it handled marvellously, shifting was easy and fun, the engine was powerful… I loved the blue-glow of the dash. With the all-over experience, the car drew certain kinds of consumers.

    IF the car company you describe had issues with the behaviour of their drivers (I.e. Their driving behaviour was negatively affecting the reputation of the company) they could start by reviewing the “experience” drivers get from car companies that are able to draw the kind of consumers they want to have, instead of the aggressive drivers they are drawing instead as consumers.

    Don’t know if this makes sense, but those are my thoughts…

    Cheers,
    Trudy

  • So what’s that brand Dave? I’ve got a three letter guess in mind and it’s not American made.. There’s a rumor going around about the correlation between highway driving attitude and that brand of vehicle. I saw a blog post somewhere today — wish I could find the link — that said Audi was one of the three top brands with the largest percentage of positive comments on their Facebook page.

    As for the response? It’s a continuing good faith effort at education. Drive safe.