Search engines and social media may generate interest and spark conversations for some retailers. But when it comes to buying and selling cars, they fail to deliver on a critical component…human interaction.
Ride and drive events have long been one of the many tools in an auto manufacturer’s toolbox of consumer advertising and outreach tactics – offering consumers engaging hands-on experiences with a subject-matter expert designed to create lasting impressions and inspire purchases of a specific vehicle or brand.
Yet according to the latest research, it’s an underused outreach method during a time when advertising is more expensive, cluttered and stretched than ever.
A study released in March 2015 by Autotrader.com entitled Car Buyer of the Future reported that 88 percent of consumers insisted on a test drive before buying a car. But, though they favored test drives, consumers also indicated they wanted less pressure from sales professionals and more direct contact with a product specialist during the test drive.
Consumer ride and drives – when designed, planned and executed by leading experts such as Precision Dynamics International – connect consumers with knowledgeable product specialists allow automotive brands to overcome the standard obstacles reported by U.S. car-buyers.
While there are many reasons for OEMs to include ride and drive events in their overall marketing and advertising strategies, here we examine the top, tried-and-true reasons consumers are better poised to buy when engaged in a consumer ride and drive event.
- Nothing Compares to Getting Behind the Wheel.
Ride and drive events offer the best of both worlds for automotive brands because, at the end of the day, consumers still want to drive before they buy – even if they’ve already shopped online or simply don’t want to visit a dealership.
“Nothing beats an in-car driving experience,” says Brad Funk, PDI President. “Ride and drives provide an opportunity with ample time for a product specialist to coach and educate consumers in a non-threatening, entertaining manner while highlighting the vehicle’s best attributes without the perceived pressure of sales professionals.”
A 2014 J.D. Power U.S. Avoider Study indicated in its key findings that the latest technology is among the top 10 purchase reasons indicated for both import and domestic new vehicle buyers. The same study reported that in the luxury category, the top reason for purchase was performance (power, handling, etc.).
Ride and drives offer consumers the opportunity to experience, first-hand, both of these purchase influencers with a subject-matter expert outside of the dealership setting.
- Consumers Want a Low-Pressure Environment with a Product Specialist.
The March 2015 Autotrader.com, Car Buyer of the Future study states, “Over half (53 percent) of consumers would buy a vehicle more often if the buying process was improved.”
The prevailing sentiment among consumers is that buying a car is an unpleasant experience.
“Brands are investing millions to improve the customer experience,” says Carl McGinn, Senior Manager, Driving Events for PDI. “Ride and drive events are designed to motivate consumers to visit the dealership. Consumers are now researching extensively prior to buying. When they have driven a vehicle prior to shopping, research shows they are far more likely to buy.
In fact, a 2014 Edmunds.com study finds that “When it comes to car shopping, Americans hate the haggle so much, they’d give up sex, Facebook and Smartphones to avoid it.”
McGinn contends this is one area where ride and drive events prove the most valuable – by offering a better-than-test-drive experience, but one devoid of high-pressure sales tactics and negotiations.
PDI’s professional drivers, product specialists and brand ambassadors engage consumers in the ride and drive experience. They share their knowledge, encourage questions and facilitate dialogue but they cannot, and will not, sell them a car.
“We extensively train our staff to ensure they know the vehicle inside and out, can demonstrate the technology and showcase the car’s dynamic and ergonomic attributes in a conversational and relatable way,” says Funk. “But they are not sales people. So participants enjoy the stress-free experience and come away more knowledgeable and with a positive impression of the vehicle.”
- Events Foster Hot Qualified Leads Unlike Any Other Experience.
Perhaps one of the most meaningful benefits of ride and drive events is the positive influence the event can have on an individual’s brand perception that ultimately generates new leads.
“We may spend a million dollars creating an impressive ride and drive event that may reach 20,000 people,” says Funk. “You could place that same amount of money toward an online campaign and reach 10 million people. But the percentage of qualified leads is far higher and the brand awareness and perception is significantly greater in a ride and drive because you’ve provided an experience. That’s how you create loyal customers for a lifetime.”
PDI staff provide detailed, customized experiences that address the individual wants and needs of each participant — from horsepower and handling to connected services and safety features.
“Our specialists offer experiences that are as unique as each participant,” says Funk. “That’s one reason why utilizing trained, experienced professionals is so important for ride and drives. Our experiences are far from one-size-fits-all and we believe our approach garners greater results.”
PDI led a ride and drive event for Infiniti at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. A comparison of pre- and post-surveys found that:
- The experience resulted in a 34 percent increase in consumers who ranked the brand as “excellent.”
- After completing the ride and drive, purchase consideration in the category of “very likely” grew by 29 percent.
“The ultimate ride and drive takeaway would be to change a consumer’s perception of a vehicle or create better, stronger brand awareness,” says Funk. “The goal is for the consumer to leave the event impressed and considering a purchase of that brand immediately or down the road.”
- Human Interaction Still Trumps Online Car Shopping and Buying.
The March 2015 study by Autotrader.com, Car Buyer of the Future, debunks the common myth that salespeople will be less important in the future. In fact, 84 percent of consumers surveyed stated that they want to buy a car in person.
“We know that consumers still want to buy a car from an actual person,” says McGinn.
The 2014 New AutoShopper Study by J.D. Power emphasizes that consumers who spend the most time on the Internet shopping for a vehicle also make the most dealership visits prior to their purchase.
Additionally, in a 2015 article from the Harvard Business Review, titled, “Is Social Media Actually Helping Your Company’s Bottom Line?,” author Frank V. Cespedes emphasizes the many flaws of social media as it relates to actual, measurable sales. The article references several surveys, making the following significant points against the effectiveness of digital communications:
- According to a Gallup survey, 62 percent of U.S. adults who use social media say these sites have no influence on their purchasing decisions, and only five percent say they have a great deal of influence.
- A Forrester study found that posts from top brands on Twitter and Facebook reach just two percent of their followers (note: that’s followers, not new customers) and only 0.07 percent of those followers actually interact with those posts. As others have noted, people are more likely to complete a Navy Seal training program or climb Mount Everest than to click on a banner ad.
- Maximizing Impact through a Proven Partner.
From extensive pre-planning to seamless execution and detailed follow-up, developing a consumer ride and drive event is most successful when partnering with leading experts in the experiential arena.
“We meticulously plan events that are in-line with the client’s current overall branding or specific goals,” says Ariella Levitan, PDI Executive Creative Director. “The campaign reflects the perfect tone and environment in which to best present the vehicle and engage the consumer.”
When following PDI’s model, consumers always leave the event with an enhanced brand image, often having test driven a car they’d not considered before.
“We strive to create a ride and drive experience that a consumer cannot get anywhere else, especially not at a dealership,” says Funk. “We get them excited about the product and brand to create something they won’t forget.”