Monday, October 27, 2003

Hybrids in the News

Great piece the Boston Globe today regarding Hybrid cars. . Captures all the key issues around these new cars, and opens by pointing to the irony having more tax incentives aligned against buying a heavy SUV than a Hybrid car. Go figure.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

When Will I Fill This Damn Car Up?

Full confession: the economy aspect of this car (i.e. 50 MPG) was NOT the sole motivation in buying the Honda Civic Hybrid. Also on the "reasons to buy" list were a sense of "being there first," and perhaps a perverse suspicion that I'd among the rare few in Cincinnati driving such a vehicle. Put another way, I guess we all want to stand out. That said, my appreciation for the gas-saving/fuel efficiency aspect of this car has dialed up a great deal since I bought the car, and lately I've been looking at my James Bond-syle indicator panel with one big question in mind: "When will I make my first trip to the gas station." I'm now at 280 miles and I'm only half way through the gas tank. And were it not for the fact that I've been "punching" the gas quite a bit to explore the full manueverability and acceleration of the car, I'd probably have more gas. To make this interesting, I'm thinking of starting an office pool so folks can estimate when I'll need my first full tank of gas. Dare to guess?

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

"So Is Pete A Vegan?"

I feel like I'm the guy behind the glass wall in a P&G focus group everytime I give someone a ride in my new Hybrid vehicle. Last Friday night, while driving a few folks to an evening event, I overheard the wife of a friend, seated in the back seat, make a passing remark: "So is Pete a Vegan?" A VEGAN! Such are the perception barriers and stereotypes one must overcome when putting a car like the Civic Hybrid on the streets. Then again, that's also the challenge we embrace in driving the car off the lot in the first place. People say the oddest, yet insightful, things when see or experience this car, and there's a wealth of learning in the unstated emotion and assumptions through which folks evaluate the car. At some point, there will be a "tipping point" where a critical mass of buyers of such vehicles see beyond the simple perception that this is merely a "Green Car," intended only for environmentalists. I'm frankly in it for something more than that -- I can't quite put my finger on it, but I know there's a big marketing strategy behind the answer.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Media Impressions of Another Sort....

At Intelliseek, we branded a new term: Consumer Generated Media (CGM). It's a more analytical take on word-of-mouth, in so far as consumers -- in this era of internet megaphones and rapid-fire communication -- are better advertisers than advertisers themselves. We also know from research published in Ad Age last week that word-of-mouth is far more impactful than television as a source of influence for car puchasing. There's no passion and loyalty for my Honda Civic Hybrid is creating lots of high-impact CGMs for Honda. And the fact that Honda is in no way, shape, or form is incenting this behavior (other than producing a great car) makes my CGM-influence factor even greater. True influencers don't need incentives, coupons, or cash-rewards for referrals. What driver their behavior is the "emotional gratification" of being heard, being first, and having an tangible impact on others' behavior.

In my case, I have yet to see a contact run for the Honda dealership to buy a Hybrid, but I have definitely shattered a few myths and stereotypes about the notion of "hybrid" cars, and started to create a word-of-mouth factor. Among the folks who are under-the-influence of Pete's hybrid car (This list will continue to grow):

-- Half of dozen co-workers (Lifetime auto purchasing power: $300K +
-- Chief Information Officer of University of Cincinnati (City's largest employer) + Wife
-- Next Door Neighbor (Fanatical Car Maven & Owner of 3 Saabs) + Wife
-- Two P&G Brand Managers (Estimated Lifetime auto purchasing power ($200K)
-- 200 folks who walked by the Hybrid Car packed on my street

Friday, October 17, 2003

Owner Link: Nurturing & Cementing the Relationship?

Today, I took a few minutes to finally sign-up for "Owner-Link," an online relationship marketing program sponsored by Honda. Honda touts the program as "your online resource for Honda care, information, and valuable offers." It uses "the power of the internet to delivery ongoing, customized information just to you." Hmmm....all hype, no promise? Or is there something special here? Signing up only took a couple minutes in total, and I actually found the process quite simple and user friendly. I especially loved the fact that the second I typed in my VIN number, my exact car showed up in the database on the next page. This in turn led to a "personal" web page being automatically created. as did my "personal" webpage dedicated to my car. Unfortunately, I didn't have my "Honda Finance" number, which would have automaticallly integrate my personal web page with an online payment and management tool for my finances. But it looks like a very simple process.

Hard to say how well this site will truly "nurture" my ongoing relationship and passion for Honda, but a couple things jump out that give me confidence. First, they make the experience really easy, and convenience is what really powers the web. Second, they answer obvious questions really well, and it just seemed as though as soon as I scratched my head about where to find my VIN number, I'd see a hyperlink to a question "Where to Find Your VIN number?" Third, they appeared sensitive to my strong desire NOT to receive unwanted e-mail or spam, and allowed me to customize what I receive -- although I must say, I frown on any company including Honda that automatically checks off the "opt-in" boxes. It puts the onus on me to remove the checks, and reflects a broader problem with marketers in putting excessively "liberal" parameters around the definition of "permission marketing." Anyway, at the end of the day, I only kept a few boxes checked, including the one for e-mail reminders around maintenance. That's a big need plus for me.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

First Day Out & The 1st Law of Unintended Benefits

Great first day with the new car! Heads certainly turned, and I for one delighted in every single ride. The car handles remarkably well, and it's just too cool when the gas shuts off at intersections or stops. The entire damn car goes silent. I just love that! Interestingly, I stumbled into a benefit I never considered before I bought the car. The stereo sounds ABSOLUTELY fabulous when the engine isn't running. The switch from gas to electric when the car stops is like putting on expensive noise-reduction headphones. It's absolutely amazing -- like sitting in a concert hall. This is probably a big undiscovered or under-exploited marketing insight for the Honda folks. And it could open up a "cohort" group for targeted marketing. I'll call them the "Bose-Ohs". No, I'm not talking about the clown, but the Bose stereo afficionados -- the fast growing, high-spending, sometimes righteous (but always damn knowlegable) "no ambient noise" crowd. So if these sound fanatics will pay $300 for a set of noise-cancelling headphones, it's hard not to imagine this segment looking kindly on a noise-cancelling car. This morning, I was listening to the new Dido album, and I must say, it sounded nothing short of glorious. In fact, never in my life have I so longed for a red light in order to turn my new car into a silent golfcart.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Moment of Truth -- Pick Up Day!

Well, today all the research and pre-work and price-comparisons came to a big close as I trekked to Superior Honda to finally pick up my 2004 Honda Civic Hybrid (Metallic color, I might add). I'll let the video speak for itself. Let's just say that so far I'm one happy customer. Let's see how long they keep me a raving fan. That is, after all, what it's all about in marketing today.

Pete's Final Day At the Dealer -- A Musical Medley

Monday, October 13, 2003

Why the Web Makes A Huge Difference in Auto Buying

In a day or two, I'll make the final journey Superior Honda to pick up my 2004 Civic Hybrid. I just can't wait, and the only thing that could delay the pick up is nifty moonroof I'm having installed. While waiting for all this, I been working through all the "preliminaries" like extra insurance for the car. Overall, I got a great deal from Progressive -- $350 total for the year -- although I found the initial touch-tone customer service process a bit clunky.

But that's not the focus of my entry today. Today a major story appeared in Ad Age magazine entitled "TV Ads Don't Sell Cars: Consumer Cite Internet and Direct Mail as More Importnt." The article essentially marginalized the role of television as primary influence factor in driving auto sales. While 17% of the consumers Cap Gemin Ernst and Young cited TV ads as the an influence in their buying decision, nearly 26% cited internet search engines (I can relate to that), and 71% cited word-of-mouth (which we all know is greatly enabled by the internet). Wow! This is a category where most of the big bucks are pumped into TV. Expect a few brawls in the auto media buying departments. Also expect to see a bit of turmoil among auto ad agecies -- most have been aloof to interactive marketing and webs strategy.

As for my own purchase behavior, there's no question word-of-mouth was the primary driver. I never actually saw a Hybrid car until I heard about it from a friend, and that prompted me to go to Google to for a search. But even that didn't get me into the lot. I heard from another friend that a rental car company in Los Angeles (where I frequently travel for business) rented hybrid cars. I loved this option because I wanted to avoid "hard-sell" lot dealers at all costs. Plus, you just can't get the FULL feel of a new car while taking a 15 minute spin. So the next time I was in LA, I rented a Toyota Prius. While I squirmed over the design, I loved the car, especiall the James-Bond dashboard, which does a better job that the Honda Civic Hybrid lin visualizing the gas-electricity switching. I knew I was hooked on the Hybrid car concept when I pulled into a fast-food drive through and the car suddenly turned into a golf cart. Wow! (Henceforce began my own word-of-mouth behavior about the car.)

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Role of Pre-Shopping: Consumer Reviews, Online Referrals, and Digital Dealers

Well, I did it! I actually made a hard and fast decision and bought a 2004 Honda Civic Hybrid. I did my research, checked a ton of reviews, and true to the gospel of Intelliseek and PlanetFeedback, diligently read over a hundred passionate, well-informed consumer comments from online discussion groups. The latter far and away had the biggest influence on my decision, and what struck me most was how absolutely fanatical the Hybrid car owners were about the car. The same type of intense "buzz" also influenced my long-stalled decision to purchase a TIVO device for television viewing. (My life has never been the same.) Anyway, the Honda car buying experience, overall, was much better than I thought. I started at a local Honda dealership, took a Hybrid out for a test drive, and then, when I got home, started reviewing price information online via Edmunds. Edmunds also made it easy for me to request several price quotes from other dealers. Ironically, the first dealer I visited in person, despite my giving him my business card, never bothered to follow-up with me via phone or e-mail, while a guy named Dave from another Honda dealership, with his Edmunds lead in hand, wrote me immediately. Thereupon began a great relationship, almost exclusively online at first, but ultimately leading to an in-store visit where word's out of my mouth was "where's Dave." Dave later told me that when they receive their first lead from Edmunds, the hit rate is usually about 10% for conversion since most car shoppers are simply doing price comparisons without any intention of actually buying. If through the e-mail relationship building process they can get the prospect in the show room, the "purchase" conversion rate shoots up to 90%. The first major mistake the first dealer made was not following up with me, even though he invested an hour or so of one-on-one time with me at the dealership, complete with test-drive. I was basically his to lose. The second dealer parlayed his more response-driven e-mail relationship marketing skills -- complete with rapid-fire responsiveness to e-mail questions -- to get me into his lot. He won. And now, as you can see, I'm a big maven/ambassador of their relationship marketing techniques.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Birth of An Auto Blog

They call them "Hybrid" cars. Hybrid because they combine both gas and electric power, resulting in dramatically improved gas mileage and a one of a kind driving experience. so they say at least. I'm days away from purchasing a Honda Civic Hybrid. Just can't wait.
The purpose of this blog is to track and review my experience with the hybrid. Stand by.