My IQ about the nature and behavior of so-called "product mavens" has increased 5-fold over the past 48 hours. Why? Because ever since word leaked about my Hybrid "opportunities" (I'm taking the diplomatic high-road), all manner of hybrid enthusiasts and experts have zapped me with e-mail, links to their blog entries, or comments on THIS blog. And that's before you count the absolutely amazing astonishing discussion Slashdot triggered less than 24 hours ago on the subject.
I've been studying online consumer behavior for nearly ten years, and the discussion flow I followed on Slashdot
blew me away. Wickedly informed. Triumph of the nerds. These folks are the "gold standard" of product experts. That's not to suggest my character was left unblemmished in this constructively enlightening back and forth on the Hybrid cars. (Believe me, passionate "mavens" will defend their brand through rain, sleet, or snow, and many of these early adopters took issue with my raising tough questions.) But the vast majority of contributors were incredibly well informed, displayed tenacious understanding of technology (to the most intricate wiring detail),
and while occasionally rude, generally anchored their comments to "action steps" or "how to fix your mess" advice. That's what I LOVE about the internet. So to the product mavens who elevated the discussion, thanks.
If one theme dominated all this Hybrid "buzz," I'd volunteer it as this: to get the miles, there are very specific steps one must diligently take to maximize the MPG factor. Don't drive fast. Check the tires. Careful on hills. Don't drive fast. No quick starts. No short trips. Turn off air conditioner. Use cruise control. Don't drive fast. Don't use the stereo. Ignore the meter, focus on the actual tank! Read the manual! Wait for 5,000 miles. No speeding. Wait for 10,000 miles. No, 15,000 miles. I now have several books worth of advice, and many of these awesome experts have offered to come check out my car,which is incredible. (That's what I call a passionate sense of "ownership" in the success of a car, and there are thousands out there who -- let the record be clear -- PASSIONATELY love their Hybrids.)
I now feel smarter and wiser. But not terribly satisfied. I've tried just about everyone of those tactics, with little success. Perhaps I just picked the wrong hybrid. But there's a bigger issue. One presumes at purchase that you don't need to be a PhD to derive the basic benefits articulated, advertised, and promoted by the seller. You just assume you'll get the benefits. If the Honda Hybrid requires all those steps to get close to an advertised mileage, car buyers should be given a courtesy heads-up at that critical "moment of truth" when they are considering spending several thousand more dollars for hybrid technology. Setting expectations is everything, and the reality is that Hybrid owners are so passionate about being on the ground-floor of an exciting new technology that they'll likely zero in on other benefits beyond mileage -- e.g. low emissions. But if folks are running through the dealer door because the media is pointing to "gas savings" as primary benefit, the seller needs to set expectations. What we've learned over the past 48 hours is that the web is cultivating a form of "Marketing Darwinism" that holds product claims to a higher standard of transparency, informed by real users with real experiences. Like those incredible folks from Slashdot.