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Marketing & logistics.

Marketing & logistics

It is commonly accepted that people often buy products that they perceive to match the image they seek to project of themselves. This seems to be particularly true in the area of car sales where, as the marketing speak has it, ‘self-image congruence and brand preference are found to be strong predictors of brand satisfaction’. In other words, you will like your car if you think it matches your personality.

Kleber (Admap, Sep 2007 Vol 42 No 486) points out that this is currently working in favour of British car marques in the US market. Wealthy Americans are, apparently, buying British premium vehicles in unprecedented numbers. Range Rover, Bentley, Aston Martin and Rolls Royce, in particular, are benefiting from the recent exponential growth in new wealth and the increase in existing wealth in the USA.

Kleber claims that these brands are seen to set their owners apart in terms of exclusivity and taste. Being ‘British’ makes them unique and interesting to US multimillionaires, even though German or US multinationals now own almost all the top UK car brands. The author contends that a luxury car is bought for what it represents more than what it is, and that British brands offer, in application or just idea, a more stylish and special brand character.

‘Britishness’ in car manufacture has not always been a positive selling point. In the 1970s, US consumers shunned in their hundreds of thousands the Morris Marina, with its camel-like body styling, and the Austin Allegro, with its rectangular steering wheel. The more conventional German or Japanese vehicles – that started and ran reliably and didn’t begin to show the first signs of corrosion only weeks after being driven from the showroom – were evidently much more closely attuned to customers’ self-image in those more prudent, less flamboyant times.

European manufacturers have learned a lot from the Japanese about product quality in the decades since the 1970s. But there are signs that the lessons on service quality are still being learned. A friend who is currently deciding which new car to buy recently arranged two day-long test drives of rival vehicles –a Toyota and one made by a European manufacturer. Both dealerships, physically next door to each other, were owned by the same UK company. But while the Toyota he picked up was in pristine condition and had a full tank of petrol, the European car contained little petrol and had scuff-marks on the dashboard. It had, said the salesman, been used by one of the boss’s children over the previous weekend, and there hadn’t been time to prepare it properly for the test. Guess which car my friend is likely to buy…

Good customer service is, in the end, a product of proper training. Eyre (Training Journal, Oct 2007) describes how 3M has revamped its sales training to focus on customer needs at least as much as the product. The article underlines the difficulties of changing the sales practice of an entire sales force, but identifies indications that the new approach is having some success.