It is becoming increasingly difficult for brands to differentiate themselves before consumers.
Not only are there more and more networks, platforms and channels in which to interact with a customer on, they are more digitally proficient, less tolerant, and savvier in their purchasing habits.
This potent cocktail has had organizations considering and trialling new methods of customer retention, via data analytics, digital marketing strategies and even consolidation, in order to best leverage new and legacy technologies.
An emerging – but not new – concept is the importance placed on the customer journey and experience.
Brands are attempting to combine advancements in business-to-consumer communication, armed with the knowledge that millennial in particular expect better, faster, service, to position themselves as the most relevant and approachable company in their sector.
This realization of the new differential has had brands questioning what their relationship with their customers are, and how best to improve it.
“We had to look at [luxury customer experience] as a lifelong relationship that goes much further than just the purchase, particularly with a product like ours. It’s about the acquisition and the on-going relationship thereafter, often on a transactional basis through a car’s service and through the lifestyle experience – then hopefully developing into a repurchase.”
As Sproule states, the lifestyle associated with Aston Martin may go some way to explain why the luxury industry has a head-start within this trend.
Higher end buyers are more likely to desire a better service before, during, and after purchase; product prices are usually higher to accommodate these demands.
This element to the luxury market ties in with a key future trend within marketing: personalization.
“[In this industry] people are looking for a more personal level of service, a more direct relationship with our company: they want to be addressed personally; they want to know who to talk t at every step of the journey – they won’t want to speak to a call centre.”
Aston Martin also functions slightly differently to others in their sector, as 90% of the business operates as a franchise.
This heightens the quality of relationship between dealership and consumer, but doesn’t necessarily mean Sproule and his team are cut off from them, as he discusses.
“The customers not only want a relationship with [dealerships], but with us, the manufacturer , so that’s we’re always trying to facilitate.”
Which makes it all the more harder to predict how the automotive industry as a whole will adapt to the consumer-centric approach.
Within each sub-market, the car, or automobile, performs a different function.
A mass brand vehicle acts a device to perform a functional role, i.e., driving to work; luxury vehicles are, usually, bought to be enjoyed, along with any extra experiences that you can participate in.
“The overall market trend depends on a number of different things because you have different economies at play, with different expectations, so [Aston Martin] are definitely in a stronger position to personalize our strategies as we know they’ll be better received.”
Knowing this, Sproule was able to improve the luxury customer experience by “building a platform that enables you to engage well, provide the customer with a dynamic journey and a better quality service – but you need the technology to run that, the direct sales force situated in your own platform, all run in a bespoke manner.”
The Aston Martin CMO doesn’t consider this a flash-in-a-plan either.
“People have many choices when they’re spending six-figure sums on cars, and that point of differentiation won’t change soon, which is why it’s so important we get it right.”
It’s still important however to consider how relevant your marketing strategies are when jumping on new trends.
For many in the industry, data and analytics are providing the right tools and insight into how their brand needs to change, and what qualities should remain; digital channels have also sped up this process, making the decision lag time for brands, all the more shorter.
Sproule and his team, however, have taken a different approach.
“We talk to our customers, we ask them what they want – it’s a dialogue process.”
The company work to understand what the customer likes and dislikes in order to choose the most relevant extras to offer them; knowledge of your consumer is one way of proving that you’re engaged with them, and the experience is relatively positive.
Not only that, but Aston Martin exchange dialogue via channels chosen by the consumer themselves.
“We’re enabled across all platforms and we allow consumers to come to us which we find provides a much nicer relationship: some buy the car and want to be left alone, other interact via social media, or through our online membership, our website, or our loyalty programme.”
For Sproule, the channels are an enabler of a conversation and an experience which is more important to him.
“‘Are you delivering the level of customer care and interaction that they expect in a convenient way?’”
Which typifies the general theme around best practice in luxury customer experience.
Customers expect ease, specificity, empathy and efficiency across many platforms, however the customer as an individual – again, often overlooked – may only converse through one particular channel, or may not want to be actively engaged with a brand past purchase.
Understanding this about your demographic can be very beneficial for your overall relationship with each customer, however it’s a luxury that that this sector can afford to take.
Other retailers and markets need to work hard to attain this level of nuanced engagement.
The luxury industry should capitalize on this position to best market the luxury customer experience, according to Sproule.
“There will be increasing emphasis put on the so-called money-can’t-buy experience, tailored with personalization on a level that somebody else won’t have…that’s the way we will build relationships with customers.”