The role of emotion in automotive purchasing

I love to run. I’ve run the same 3-mile beachfront route every couple of days for three months. The problem is that I now find myself in autopilot, going through the motions on that same run without really pushing myself – and no inspirational podcast or pump-up playlist can help me! The routine nature of my exercise means that I am no longer excited by my regime, and therefore I’m not achieving the results I want to achieve.

Routines can be good. They provide predictability and a foundation for establishing strong habits. But the flip side is that they can be a quick path to getting stuck in a rut. The same can be said of using tried-and-trusted approaches to your advertising campaigns. Go about it without much thought, and you might soon be disappointed by the impact.

As advertising becomes increasingly reliant on technology, it has become easier for Marketers to fall victim to the dangers of routine. Killer creative and understanding the emotional journey that consumers travel on takes a back seat as we try to get quick wins and more bang for our buck. We fall into the dastardly trap of efficiency over effectiveness.

As automotive marketers, it is important that we wake up from our routine slumber and reconsider the role emotion really plays in the automotive customer purchase journey to make our marketing more effective.

Why are emotions so important to consider?

While as humans we don’t salivate at the sound of a ringing bell in the anticipation of food, we are still slaves to our emotions and our primal brains. By understanding the degree to which our brains rely on emotions when making decisions throughout the entirety of the customer journey, retailers can appeal to the feelings of their customers and ultimately boost sales.

We know that emotion is in play when we’re moved to tears or laughter or feel the hairs on the back of our necks stand on end. When a piece of advertising produces such effects, we know that it’s generating intense and influential memories that could dispose the person feeling those emotions to buy the brand in question.

Emotion though, doesn’t need to shed tears or an outward expression to exert a strong influence on consumer behaviour. Trust, confidence, concern and suspicion are all strong emotional responses, they are just more subliminal and produce less immediate effects.

Douglas Van Praet, the author of Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (and Inspire) Marketing, puts it perfectly, saying:

“The most startling truth is we don’t even think our way to logical solutions. We feel our way to reason. Emotions are the substrate, the base layer of neural circuitry underpinning even rational deliberation. Emotions don’t hinder decisions. They constitute the foundation on which they’re made!.”

What Van Praet’s research shows us is that the more customers weigh up their options for a high value purchase, the more they need their emotions, instincts and memories to make a choice. What automotive marketers need to do is recognise the value that cognitive research has in marketing and use it to target hearts, not heads. Marketers need to make it a goal to create a sense of inspiration in the area of the brain that seeks connection and a sense of belonging and build a strategy that emphasises it. Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor said “We live in a world where we are taught from the start that we are thinking creatures that feel. The truth is, we are feeling creatures that think.”

Take for instance one of the most successful ads in Volkswagen’s history. The 2011 Super Bowl ad was the story of a miniature Darth Vader who comes to believe in the power of The Force when his dad uses the remote-start feature of a Volkswagen. The advert became among the most notorious and shared Super Bowl ads ever, amassing a staggering 56 million views on YouTube, generating a reported 6.8 billion impressions worldwide and more than $100 million in earned media. And it helped the VW brand achieve the best market share in the United States in 30 years.

Why? Dr. Stephen Sands, Chair and Chief Science Officer at Sands Research explained “VW’s Darth Vader advertisement elicited such a strong emotional response, it ranks as the highest we have ever tested.” The ad received the highest “neuro-engagement score” in the annual Sands Research Super Bowl Ad Neuro Ranking, which measures not what people say but how they feel through electrophysiological activity in the brain.

Automakers and their dealer networks should recognise the shortcomings of traditional approaches and heed the lessons that cognitive science is clearly teaching us. Automotive consumers feel their way to reason. As marketers we must rouse hearts, not just heads, by transforming the overall customer experience and ultimately develop into a trusted organisation.

At RLA, we have created countless integrated strategies for our clients that have been able to improve consumer loyalty, retention, and aftersales. If our years of automotive experience have taught us anything, it is that to transform a customer from a buyer to a brand advocate, relationships need to be built by injecting trust-building attributes and emotional relevance into every customer interaction along their purchase journey. Remember, if you want to generate action, then you need to generate emotion.