A few weeks ago, I was on a panel with IS (define) executives to discuss the "Future of the User Experience" at Forrester's annual Automotive Summit. It was a thought-provoking day and the inspiration for today's column.
The automotive industry is one of the online biggest marketers. Several research studies find roughly 70 percent of car buyers perform research online before buying a vehicle. Most consumers in the market for a high-consideration product or service, be it a car, home, engagement ring, computer, or new bank or brokerage firm, conduct a significant amount of online research to inform their purchase decisions. Because of this, $8.4 billion was spent in 2004 in online advertising, according to Jupiter Research (a Jupitermedia Corp. division). This figure is expected to double by 2009.
Where does the money go? Much of it is intended to position products or services in very crowded marketplaces. With so much money pouring into online advertising, it's amazing how slow most industries are to respond to customer inquiries or leads. According to Jupiter Research, 40 percent of automotive leads, 37 percent of travel leads, and 25 percent of retail leads take three or more days to respond to.
If I were CEO of a company producing high-consideration products or services, I'd invest in improving the buying experience from initial impression to final close. While I was at it, I'd reinvent the product or service, in the spirit of creating the "Purple Cow," Seth Godin endorses. If you're thinking about reinventing your customers' total experience, look outside your industry for inspiration.
Last year, I bought an iPod at an Apple store. It was more beautifully and luxuriously packaged than a Rolex watch. Opening the box, I felt as if I'd bought something truly wonderful. What I bought wasn't a product, but a total experience that was seamless from beginning to end. Here's what makes the iPod exceptional (and enables Apple to command a premium for the product):
This very highly sophisticated experience is for a product that costs under $500. A nicely appointed business laptop is $3,000. The sticker price for a good car now runs north of $30,000. Luxury cars cost twice that. Shouldn't we expect more from the experience of buying some of the most expensive, highly considered purchases in our lives?
Learn from Apple. Think about how to make your customers' experience exceptional. Here are a few items that I discussed on that panel for your consideration:
Regardless of your industry, we can all learn lessons from Steve Jobs, and Virgin's Richard Branson, as we strive to reinvent the product and the purchase/ownership experience. I enjoy your feedback, so please share your opinions on how the Web can reinvent the personal product experience.
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