Let’s make a guess that about 70% of people who have purchased a new car are happy about their purchase.  One would hope that it’s higher … but for the purposes of making my point, let’s keep it a bit lower.  People buy cars for a variety of reasons, from design appeal to safety to brand loyalty.  There’s no single reason for buying a car.  Yet most of automotive advertising is focused on selling a reason.  The problem is, that reason might not be the one that is relevant for a target customer.  Interactive experiences online where you can get a complete picture of a car or fleet of options are a much better way to go.  They let customers hone in on what attributes they are interested in, and drives (um, no pun intended) them to come into a dealership and test drive a car.  Those who test drive are much more likely to buy.  This is not a difficult strategy.

What’s missing is the dialogue that other sectors are realizing is the most important.  Right now, as a car buyer, if I am satisfied with my purchase, I would probably tell my friends and family if they asked – but not necessarily broadcast my opinion.  Yet this opinion is what could be the most compelling reason for someone to purchase the same car I own.  It’s basic word of mouth marketing, but most automotive marketers do an awful job of fostering it.  John Bell recently pointed to Volvo’s efforts to engage in a dialogue online around the C30.  For good reason, he found it lacking – there is no compelling reason to contribute to this dialogue unless you are unhappy, seeking revenge, or simply commenting on how the car "looks nice."  How many current owners of the C30 are motivated to go to the site and talk about their experience?  Probably none. 

Yet if the voices of those happy C30 owners (of which I presume there are more than a few) were included on this site rather than fake comments, it could be so much more powerful.  The missing link mentioned in the title of this post is the incentive for current owners who are happy with their cars to share this opinion widely and vocally.  Word of mouth marketing is not just about hoping people tell their friends and family about something and attributing a category and name to the phenomenon when it happens by accident.  It’s about finding the satisfied customers that are willing to broadcast (or microcast) their opinions and giving them the tools to do it.  Imagine if a fraction of the marketing spend automotive advertisers poured into TV advertising was spent on this.  John (and I and many others) might at least be far more likely to consider the Volvo C30 for our next car purchase …