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August 23, 2007

Befriending consumers from the inside out

I'm an account planner in the world of advertising.  But I'm the first person to admit that it's ownership experience that is any brand's most powerful asset.  It's not just a powerful asset, it's a makes or breaks two very important things: 1) the loyalty of the customer and 2) the customer's willingness to participate in a positive conversation about your brand to others.  So I felt compelled to share a personal ownership experience I have with my Honda Element.  Here's the thing, I love my Element.  Really, for a whole host of reasons.  And Honda has done a really good job at creating a brand with values and meaning that people like me can buy into.  It's quirky, practical, highly useful and its always a vehicle that people ask you about.  I can't count how many times someone has asked me, "so, do you like your element?"  It's like they can't decide if it's cool or not, but they are intrigued by the possibilities of it.

Check out the spots (props to the agency)

Most importantly, the Element is the basis of a social network (hondaelementownersclub.com).  Not many brands can say that, but many want to achieve it.  They have over 20,000 registered members and quite an extensive forum.  So you feel as if you belong to something and the advice you get enhances the ownership experience...

and then you go to the dealership.  This is where it all falls apart.  The Element has been successful at marketing itself as a expressive brand that consumers love and feels expresses their core beliefs and lifestyle.  But all of the genius and elbow grease that went into creating that relationship with the customer and the social network behind it is for not when the biggest representative of the company (the dealership) doesn't care about fostering a relationship.  I swear every time I leave a dealership I feel I need to take a shower.  I feel lied to, conned and stolen from.  Things like  a $400 "maintenance" check up at 30K, where you leave saying, "hey, what did I just pay for?"  Then, a month later and 3 months outside of your warranty, the air conditioner goes down (not cool in Florida).  You go in and they make you feel like they're doing you a favor by covering part of the cost.  Since when is an air conditioner fail before 32K miles?  On a Honda!

So, despite my having a 3 mile, 4 stoplight conversation with a fellow Honda Element owner the other day, who was giving me props for my wheels and advice on how to get the wax off our plastic quarter panels, I'm contemplating buying a Toyota FJ Cruiser. 

Next post, I'll suggest some simple rules that marketers should be using to ensure they are building a friendship with consumers from the inside-out, instead of outside-in.

by Brandon Murphy


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