Fleet News

Making sense of new car marketing plans

'THE science of planning the marketing of new cars has become ever more exact, with every vehicle launch I attend involving some explanation of the demographics relating to the target consumer.

Even before we get to drive the car, we are told precisely who will be driving it when it reaches the market, including the target customers' age, sex, occupation, salary and numerous other lifestyle 'facts'.

What always strikes me as disconcerting is that most of the audience listening to these explanations never seems to fit into any of the categories being mentioned. I certainly never feel as if a car is actually aimed at me. Invariably I am too old, the wrong gender, have the wrong lifestyle and, typically, don't earn enough to fit the bill.

Obviously the manufacturer needs to know who it is aiming to sell a product to, after all the years and millions spent on developing a new vehicle. That's the only way to market a vehicle effectively.

You don't need particular promotional insight to understand there would be little point in blowing all of the marketing budget for the new Renault Megane on the pensionable sector of the population or investing all your effort in promoting the Honda Accord to young 20-something city types.

We are also often taken through the current demographics of their customers too and it seems the typical customer is becoming younger. This fact always seems to be celebrated, though I never really understand why that might be, given that the typical 50-something who has discharged their responsibility as a parent tends to have plenty of disposable income these days.

In fact, this was well illustrated recently by a road driving event organised jointly by Velo and Saga. Of the manufacturers who attended I have yet to speak to one who wasn't glad they invested the time and effort to attend. And the typical view was that not only did the guests turn up in numbers, they were the highest possible quality prospects – all intending to buy a new car in the near future.

So I do sometimes wonder if all of the demographic statistics aren't based more on how a manufacturer sees itself rather than the realities of the market.

One reason for my scepticism is the fact that the majority of new cars are sold into the contract hire industry, rather than to private buyers. Unless the supplier goes back to the manufacturer with all the driver's details – and I'm not aware of any that do – how can a car maker know who the majority of their customers really are? They can get some sort of snapshot from dealers but this is unlikely to be representative of the entire customer base.

So how do they back up their statistics? I remember one manufacturer once admitting it actually employed people to stand at the roadside and make notes on the drivers of certain cars. That sounds like the best way, which puts all of us in just as good a position to understand the typical profile of different car drivers.

Of course, the advertising and marketing of most cars always tends to carry a youthful image.

This makes good sense because, let's face it, how many people aged 50 today don't still feel young. Aim for a youthful market and you will capture many more.

The other benefit of aiming marketing at youth is that the best way to secure maximum market share is to hit the people buying their first new car and those who have strong aspirations.

So, marketing and advertising at the younger end of the population makes perfect sense but I will take some convincing that a realistic profile of the actual people at the wheel is truly understood by most.'

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