Ciel Graham: An auto marketer’s guide to cutting through clutter and complexity

The Growth Distillery - Ciel Graham

“With more brands, more choices, new needs, and new influences, buyers are overwhelmed rather than spoilt for choice.”

By Ciel Graham, research director, The Growth Distillery

It was almost a year ago when The Growth Distillery first took a look under the hood of the automotive category as part of the Moments that Matter series. What we uncovered was a sector in total turbulence, consumers who are inexperienced at navigating it, and marketers racing against time to make an impact.

Drive forward to now… and the automotive landscape has only grown more complex for both buyers and brands. The challenge has never been greater, but neither has the opportunity. And that’s where our latest deep-dive, Reframe Automotive, kicks into gear.

To help cut through the confusion and better understand the realities of car ownership in 2024, The Growth Distillery partnered with The Research Agency (TRA) and spoke with more than 2,000 Australians through qualitative and quantitative approaches. The results are in, and the conversations that car buyers are currently having might surprise you.

While the features and performance of the vehicle itself matters, 60% of conversations are about how the car they choose makes them feel. With more brands, more choices, new needs, and new influences, buyers are overwhelmed rather than spoilt for choice. In fact, 61% told us they believe all cars offer the same or similar features with 59% finding the thought of buying a car in 2024 “anxiety inducing”.

So why, and what is, the ‘Reframe’?

Last year, 49% of buyers felt overwhelmed by the pace of change in the sector. This year that figure has jumped, with 64% telling us they feel this way.

Emotive and visually captivating campaigns can, and do, capture buyers’ hearts and minds. Spec-sheets remain crucial to be on the consideration set.  The real challenge is translating the ‘feel’ from the screen or the page, into the real world.

To achieve this, marketers need to reframe their thinking beyond the car and car “buyer” itself, and focus on the human behind the wheel to help them cut through the clutter.

How might this look in practice?

The market has always looked at car buyers through the lens of two mindsets – utility and premium – which are anchored in what they are buying. While these remain valuable frames, the why behind them now becomes more important.

Let’s start by shining the light on the utility mindset, typically seen as practical, no-frills, and likely apathetic buyers. Their conversations about the car focus on functionality – reliability, safety, efficiency, and convenience. However, when we look deeper into the research, we find these buyers are highly aspirational. They seek independence, progression, escape, and connection.

The reframed role of the car extends beyond function, to empowerment – what it enables them to do and achieve.

Now if we look at the premium mindset,  these buyers are perceived as prestige driven, status-seeking, probably a bit pretentious. They talk about the car make and model, styling, performance, and upgrade options.

Our research widens this view and reveals them as content and self-confident in life. They value experimentation, affinity, exploration, and individuality.

The reframed role of the car shifts beyond status, to passions – a celebration of who they are and what they care about.

So what can auto marketers actually do?

There are three territories which align to the Moments that Matter purchase journey where marketers can fuel differentiation and deliver transcendent value within this new reframed view:

1. Provide exceptional on-ramps (at the initial research ‘recalibration’ stage)

Connect with them more meaningfully and in their world, when they’re experiencing life at its richest, seeking empowerment and pursuing their passions.

2. Offer ‘dealer’ distinctiveness (at the decision or ‘conviction’ stage)

Bring their world into yours, especially where their cognitive load is highest and give them new reasons to believe in your brand.

3. Buy a ticket (at the drive-away or ‘commitment’ stage)

The vehicle is a gateway to lives people seek to live. Servicing, experiences, and mementos are increasingly important to stay in each other’s worlds.

Top image: Ciel Graham

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