After the happy car
Marketers often design "personas" for hypothetical customers; conduct case studies of nominal customers that they believe represent idealized market segments.
“Mary is a single mother of two with a college education and limited disposable income . . . ”
“Chuck is a single professional, finished grad school, and just purchased his first home . . .”
And so on and so on . . .
The idea is to use these personas to help identify specific needs and tastes and tailor products for those segments.
No doubt every auto manufacturer does something similar when developing new models, creating faux customer profiles to help identify vital design factors. Like a phony spoiler to appeal to the boy-racers out there, or a built-in purse holder for soccer moms in minivans.
If it works for the manufacturers to apply personas to us, I think it’s high time we as customers apply the same thinking to the manufacturers themselves. This might just provide us with a powerful new decision-making rubric when purchasing automobiles.
After all, I think most of us would admit we tend to focus on rather petty traits when we choose a car—sleek lines, horsepower stats, perceived image. Most of us stopped choosing our friends based on the clothes they wore sometime during high school (Kim Kardashian and company not included), but when it comes to cars, we still seem to be drawn to prom queens rather than potential soul mates.
Perhaps a brand persona for car companies would avoid a lot of broken car relationships, like an eHarmony for automotive buying.
So after a highly technical process that involved historical analysis, my own personal experience, and a few cocktails, here’s my suggested “persona” for a few major car companies. Pick the personality that suits you best and then check the answer key below to see which manufacturer is “just right: for you.
And good luck with your next relationship. Oops, I mean car purchase . . .
A. William: His given name is William, but he of course goes by “Billy Bob.” A country boy, Billy Bob is rock ribbed and patriotic in that flag waving, Budweiser kind of way.
Billy Bob hit a rough patch during the Great Recession, but is recently on a self-improvement kick, hitting the gym, wearing nicer clothes, and using government loans to go to night school.
While he’s improving, Billy Bob may still embarrass you in front of the relatives. Watch out for loud burps in public or pranks like turning the car off while you are driving it.
B. Hans: Hans is buff and handsome. He’s always been buff and handsome.
Don’t try to be as good as Hans, because everyone tries and usually fails. You will too.
With a taste for craft cocktails, fancy clothes, and lots of accessories, Hans is an expensive friend to have, but always knows how to get into the latest hot spots. Hans is, of course, super rich due to his family’s fortune, but he’s usually in a dispute with his parents.
It’s fun hanging out with Hans since he attracts a lot of women, but deep down, you always worry the girls are more interested in Hans than you. And you’d be right.
C. Reynard: Reynard comes from an intellectual family of stodgy Bavarians. Fit, charming, and amiable, Reynard also has an arrogant and pretentious streak.
But he’s that cool kid all the other kids want to hang out with. At least everyone says he’s cool. And if he is that cool, you want to be with Reynard, too.
Something of a hypochondriac, spending time with Reynard means you will likely wind up at the doctor for many expensive, regular checkups.
D. Skyla: Skyla comes from simple British stock, but has great ambitions and has lately spread herself thin in many questionable ventures.
In her youth, Skyla could get by on just her looks, which covered up for frequent job performance issues. Now middle aged, that cuteness has worn thin and she’s starting to look a bit awkward and plump, like her clothes are a size too small.
You may have a good time with Skyla, but once her charm has worn off, you realize she’s something of a cheap tart who often leaves you with a hangover in the morning.
E. Jane: Jane’s that kid in high school who was always the girl next door—cute but not beautiful, athletic but not a star. Jane’s solid and dependable – someone you know grandma would love if you brought her home. Even though she grew up simple, Jane’s increasingly cosmopolitan of late.
The problem is, you can tell Jane’s just a little nouveau riche. But she’s trying.
Good for you, Jane.
F. Winston: Winston comes from English old money, with one of those odd hyphenated last names like Randolph-Pheasant or Downhurst-Wallace.
Despite appearances, Winston’s old money is really no-money. If you look carefully, you can see his Jermyn Street suits are getting a bit threadbare and out of style, and his cell phone is still a flip phone model from 2005. What Winston really needs is to marry someone with a sizeable dowry to fix his money woes.
Hmmm, perhaps there’s a countess in Italy or Germany who could make a perfect partner?
G. Yuki: Yuki was born in Japan, but now considers himself all-American. A brilliant engineer, you can always rely on Yuki to fix your car. Or your laptop. Or your superconducting supercollider. The problem with Yuki is he’s just—well, a little dull.
He wears khaki Dockers. He never stays out all night. All his cans in the kitchen are lined up. By color.
Yuki won’t ever crash your car or stick you with a big bar tab, but after a while with him, you’ll start wishing you’d joined Hans for that trip to the latest trendy brew pub, or took Skyla out for the night.
Answer Key:A. Chevrolet (William)B. Porsche (Hans)C. BMW (Reynard)D. Mini (Skyla)E. Ford (Jane)F. Aston Martin (Winston)G. Honda (Yuki)
*Jonathan Orr is a writer, car enthusiast, public relations expert, Afghan veteran and proud father. He thinks his beloved Porsche 911 is a member of the family. Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanjorr
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