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Auto Advertising Nudge for Purchasers to Buy

There are millions of potential car buyers waiting pensively for a ‘sign’ that this is the right time to buy. They’re waiting for someone to say “it’s okay!” They’re waiting for a ‘nudge’ in the direction they are willingly headed. They are watching the movement of the pack. Have you ever watched a herd of anything being ‘herded’? Cattle, sheep, horses, crowds of people? They seem to know which way they’ll be going but put their heads and ears up to detect confirmation. They look for signs of movement. Then suddenly a barking dog, or horse rider or a boy with a stick appears at the flank and nudges them in the desired direction. Then a few in the lead start moving, taking those behind along with them, and those behind them, and suddenly all the crowd follows.

Right now, as tough as it is to believe the ‘herds’ will ever return in great numbers, statistics, history and common sense tell us they will. The pent up demand is enormous and growing daily. Mileage is at an all time high average. Low mileage trades are rare. Used vehicles with 150,000 miles are the rule. Respected analysts and forecasters are saying confidently that we will return to a 16-million plus new vehicle pace much sooner than expected. But our challenge right now is to sell cars today. This weekend. This month. And in order to do that, the most effective advertising/marketing plan will focus on ‘the nudge’. Not the ‘reason’ to buy right now, but rather the ‘confirmation’ of the reasons already existing in shoppers’ minds. defines the nudge as “to push slightly or gently to get someone's attention, prod someone into action, etc.” But understanding the nuances of the ‘nudge’ makes it much more powerful of a concept. One of the definitions of nudge says it is derived from words like nud-yen, noodge, nudnik, nudzh, which all basically mean ‘to bore’. But often we only bore people because we are reminding them of things they need to do with subtle consistent prodding. A proper nudge skillfully influences people to ‘go with their gut’. In fact, the best ‘closes’ are nothing more than strategic nudges.

Some Secrets of the Nudge:

Consistency across all levels and platforms of marketing. Your message must be the same in all media, at the point of purchase, in the sales presentation, on the closer’s lips. Why this is the right time to buy. Why this is the right vehicle to buy. Why you are the right dealership to buy from. Nudges are not shoves…they are gentle pokes. The idea is not to supplant your customer’s reasons for considering a purchase now, but rather to support and confirm their reasons.

Fear of the unknown is the greatest opportunity. Does your advertising message talk about the high cost of ‘waiting to trade’? A vehicle in good condition with 135,000 miles may still be a good trade, but if the transmission fails tomorrow the cost of repair may be far in excess of its current book value. Many new vehicle buyers are now in ‘no warranty’ limbo for the first time in their lives.

Appraisals and test drives are more important than ever. Helping a potential buyer across the ‘chasm’ of decision is much easier when a salesperson gently nudges the confirmation process by encouraging an appraisal and probing for realistic solutions and options to the customer’s needs. This takes time and focus. While a potential buyer may be exploring intuitive desires, they will not be hustled or pushed, and will shut down quickly if the pressure is put on them.

Does your advertising ‘nudge’ customers unsure of credit worthiness? A sizeable percentage of potential buyers are not qualified to purchase through traditional credit channels or at least believe they may be challenged. Nudging might mean encouragement to fill out an online secure credit application at home. Your advertising might encourage credit-challenged customers to contact a specific person at your dealership who specializes in these situations.

Nudging should be creative. Remember, strong-arm tactics are worthless in times like these. Customers must believe you understand their specific needs, desires and motivation. A sales presentation might include an offer to have the dealership service department offer a vehicle renovation assessment. Often, ‘negative’ sales pitches are powerful nudges. “Mrs. Jones, I understand how concerned you are about taking on new vehicle payments. Why don’t we ask our service manager what it would cost to make the kind of repairs that would keep your present vehicle on the road for another year?” Advertising such a message might also attract more borderline shoppers and may even result in more business for the service department. Remember, effective nudges are subtle. Just as the side-by-side comparison of buying vs. leasing put tens of thousands of new vehicle customers in two-year leases 20 years ago, a side-by-side comparison of associated costs of repairing and operating a current vehicle, vs. the costs of owning new, may be all the convincing a customer needs to make a move.

Nudging needs more nudging. As stated earlier, ‘nudge’ is a derivative of the Yiddish word nud-yen, which means ‘bore’. We generally ‘bore’ someone when we repeatedly talk about a subject of little interest to them. An effective ‘nudge’ is multi-faceted, both in subject and medium. If you had a showroom full of people who failed to take action this weekend, each and every one deserves a gentle follow-up ‘nudge’…or two or three. A call, an e-mail and a hand written ‘thank you’ note are all great nudges if they include reinforcement of specific thoughts in the customer’s mind. Rather than just saying “Thank you’ for visiting with us”, remind a shopper with a nudge about the incentive that expires in two weeks or maybe the fact that their present vehicle will certainly not increase in value with time. Maybe include a note or message to say you have several other ideas you’d like to present after considering the customer’s situation over the weekend.

Play on current concepts. Remember, your potential customers are being influenced by the same fears and opportunities advanced and reflected by mainstream media. If national news stories talk about potential shortages of particular models in the future, or rising costs of inflation, these may also be effective nudges.

The designers of slot machines design have even incorporated the psychology of the ‘nudge’. When a customer puts coins in a ‘nudge’ machine, a winning combination might ‘mysteriously’ be nudged into play as an encouragement to keep trying. Perhaps a small additional incentive may be all it takes to bring the numbers in line.

In this environment, customers won’t tolerate being pestered, hounded or cajoled. All but fools realize this is still a buyer’s market, and that is the primary reason for indecisiveness. A well-placed nudge in the direction of the thought process the customer is intuitively headed in may be interpreted as a confirmation of their decision-making ability and a reason to make a move. Don’t waste your time and advertising money talking about the reasons YOU must sell your inventory now. Talk about the reasons that are in your customers’ minds. Don’t push…just ‘nudge’ the emotional considerations. Don’t shove…just ‘nudge’ the solid dollar and sense reasons for making it happen right now.

5/25/09 Copyright © Jim Boldebook (for July 2009 Issue of Dealer Magazine)

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