I'm a fan of Mercedes-Benz cars but my experience with them as a company over the last few months leads me to the conclusion they are confused when it comes to using digital technologies for marketing. A bold statement I know so let me explain.
Know Your Customers
In the 21st century it's important to know your customer, and to be honest there are very few excuses for not getting that right. The type of customer I am, so far as Mercedes should be concerned, is one who likes owning and driving a quality car, but I'm not overly concerned about the car being brand new. In fact, I prefer a well looked after car that's a few years old.
This is evidenced by the cars I've bought from Mercedes, a three year old C class coupe followed two years later by an 18 month old E class estate. These cars cost between £20k and £30k which makes the payments reasonable and the ownership relatively hassle free. For me, it's a good balance.
After 4 years of having me as a customer they should know this and the digital marketing they direct at me should be geared around this.
Square Peg, Round Hole
So where have the nice people at Merc fallen down, at least for me, over the last few months. Simple, they've tried to force a square peg into a round hole. Let me explain.
After years of being suspicious of Personal Contract Plans, or PCP's, I finally succumbed and to my surprise I realised it made sense. With a PCP, you're basically covering the depreciation of the car with monthly payments with an option to buy at the end of the contract term. It's a simple and inexpensive way to run a nice car, compared to buying it outright. Another option is leasing.
My criteria for a PCP haven't changed much over the last 4 years. The second car was slightly more per month than the first one, but in both cases the monthly payment was under £300 and the deposit was circa £3k.
As the PCP on the E class got close to its end date Merc contacted me to ask if I wanted to change the car or keep it. I advised I was interested in changing it and that I'd be looking for putting £3k in (the deposit) with a monthly payment of about £300. But they didn't listen.
£6k In and £450 Per Month
To cut a long story short we made an appointment, sat with a sales person for 2 hours and at the end of that process signed up for a brand new A class. The deal was we'd put £6k in as a deposit and the monthly payments would be about £450, way way beyond where we felt comfortable.
Not surprisingly, 24 hours later I realised I'd been "sold to" and pulled the plug on the deal, thank goodness for cooling off periods. The car was not what we wanted and neither was the deal. The result of this was they were disappointed and so was I. Furthermore, they'd lost my trust as they'd made the experience all about what they wanted to sell and not about what I wanted to buy.
The first rule of marketing is to understand your customer and they'd failed despite having me as a customer for almost 4 years.
They compounded their mistake a few months later by again trying to sell me a new car that didn't meet my criteria and in all likelihood have now lost me as a customer.
They Haven't Tried to Understand Me
The main mistake Mercedes have made is they haven't created accurate buyer personas and aligned me with one of them. If they had, they would have recognised that trying to tell a professional engineer that his current car was using old technology would have been the wrong approach when trying to sell the idea of a new car. They would also have recognised that a financially aware business owner such as me is going to be switched on about budgets. When I told them £3k in and £300 a month, I meant it.
Listen To and Understand Your Customers
None of the above is meant to suggest that you shouldn't help and guide your customers or potential customers. But along with this you also need to understand them. Developing a deep understanding of them is going to help you execute better digital marketing no matter if that's paid search or search engine optimisation.
All marketing starts with an understanding of your customers, your markets and your position in your markets. If you get this right everything else becomes easier, get it wrong and you'll be just like Mercedes, blindly trying to sell what you want to sell instead of what your customers want to buy.
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