Blog, Our Thinking

Is there too much choice for the automotive customer?

Buying a car is not that easy. I’m currently looking at buying my first brand new car and there seems to be a monumental amount of choice out there. With over 45 different automotive brands each offering a variety of models with either hatchback, saloon, MPV, SUV, crossovers, coupe or convertible. Then there’s engine size, do I stay with Petrol or make the move across to electric/hybrid? Once that’s all chosen, I get to personalise my purchase by choosing optional extras. It all feels quite daunting.

But this isn’t something that’s new or specific to the automotive sector. People often speak of there being too much choice, over-choice/choice overload or rather grandly the Tyranny of Choice. While researching this I read that Psychologist George Miller said “a consumer can only process seven items at a time” his fellow Psychologist Barry Schwartz added that “choice creates anxiety for the consumer”. Other sectors have responded to this type of thinking with retail companies such as Aldi, Tesco and Lidl simplifying the amount of choice in order to make it far easier for their customers.

This simplification of choice has occurred within the Automotive market, partly due to changes such as the WLTP (Worldwide harmonized light vehicles test procedure) having an impact. With the need for automotive companies to react to how vehicles are now categorised and taxed, as it’s no longer just engine size and emissions that makes a difference to how a car is judged. A car’s emissions can be hugely affected by body styling and tyre choice, due to the effect on its weight, which therefore heavily impacts the emissions and therefore its tax classification. This has been one of the reasons that has led to SEAT offering fixed trim levels and BMW reducing the variations in engine sizes and equipment options. All of these moves look to standardise the offering to consumers and create transparency of costs for the brands.

But how else can Automotive brands help me and others to navigate the depth of choice? In their favour the top brands do have strong and structured brand identities. Omnicom’s agency Interbrand ranked 15 of the automotive companies being in the top 100 Best Global Brands for 2018, all of which apart from one, increased their previous scores from 2017. For many of those companies, their current customers often feel drawn to particular badges, associating themselves with some and disassociating from others. I know although I’m not hugely knowledgeable about cars, I certainly feel drawn to certain brands over others. This makes my own personal selection slightly easier as I know the brands that I favour. But will this always be the case? I’m not a millenial, unfortunately, and as brands move away from Internal Combustion towards Electric Vehicles, as well as autonomous vehicles, will these future car buyers have the same emotional connection to those brands?

New car buyers now leverage far more third-party resources. Brands are aware of this and have been changing the way they communicate to adapt and personalise their messaging to keep it engaging and relevant. As this continues to evolve, brands are being required to make sure their image resonates with younger audiences, harnessing these third-party resources alongside their own content, highlighting their own ethics, beliefs and the sheer enjoyment of having a car. Giving those audiences a reason to really connect with them. This will be done via advertising as well as utilising their own channels, targeted experiential events etc. Thereby creating reasons for potential customers to engage with their content in a way that speaks to them and is relatable. This will become easier and more natural as brands adapt their websites bringing further ecommerce and personalisation, reacting to what is of key interest to the individual. Designing their own channel environments to support the change in behaviour as people migrate away from dealerships to a more centrally controlled online purchase.

So to answer the question of whether there is too much choice in the marketplace, for me it is a yes, BUT it’s obvious that the automotive sector are reacting to this and appear to want to reduce the options to make it easier. This is partially due to the changes in laws and partly a reaction to the ways their customers are now interacting; how they consume information and content. Also by creating more simplicity in the way that buyers will purchase their products by adding more personalisation to help focus a consumer. My feeling is that in the long term we will also see a more defined tiering of brands, with them falling into particular categories based on whether the customer is purchasing a mobility package or a driving experience both of which will have variations depending on budgets. The driving experience will always be within the Premium sector and therefore will always require a deeper ability to customise and adapt to what drivers want. So from this it’s hugely important for brands to understand who their customer base is and reflect that in the communication and content they use within their channels and messaging.