automotive emotion research - consumer car buying emotional journey

According to the Pew Research Center, 88% of American households have a car.  At about 128 million households in the U.S., that means that there are over 112 million privately owned cars in garages, driveways, or parked on the street right now (not to mention the Jay Lenos of the world who own almost 200 cars).  Buying a car is one of the biggest purchases that we as consumers make throughout our lives and the process can evoke a slew of emotions.  Some people feel anxious, confident, nervous, frustrated… maybe all of those at different points.

Narrowing down the emotional journey of a customer buying a car can be tricky for brands.  Everyone has different trigger points, peaks, and ends to their journey.  Maybe one person’s peak was driving off the lot in their band new car, and another’s was losing their financing at the last minute and starting their search all over again.

Emotional Roller coaster

Understanding the emotional roller coaster that consumers go through when buying a car can help brands unlock the specific memorable moments along this customer journey.  Once the memorable moments are identified, brands can use this insight to formulate a strategy as to how to capture the attention – and emotions – of consumers during this process.

For an obvious example, if a consumer walks into a dealership and feels a sense of calm, they might be more likely to feel confident and walk away with a new car.  However, if they walk in and the atmosphere makes them feel nervous, chances are they are going to run as fast as they can in the opposite direction.

But you know that… it’s common sense. 

Consumer Car Buying Emotional Journey emotions automotive image representation

What isn’t common sense is understanding the different channels and properties of emotions and how to capitalize on that knowledge to sell more cars.  Our algorithm maps over ten thousand emotion words into just 8 emotional channels that describe the overall feeling of that particular word – contempt, serenity, joy, and dread are some of the emotion channels.

Further, emotions have four properties: enjoyment, interest, commitment, and passion.  Each property has an associated intensity (for example, intensities within the enjoyment property are pleasant vs. unpleasant) that helps further define our complex human emotions.  You already know that Discomfort and Sorrow are both unpleasant emotions, but one is an active emotion while the other is passive.  We’ll get into what that means in a minute.

To highlight the importance of emotional properties, we’ve conducted an Emotion Intelligence study on consumers going through the process of buying a car.

What Car Buyers Feel

Automotive car buyers emotional journey chart

At almost 30%, the primary emotion consumers feel while buying a car is Confidence, which maps to the Joy channel. This is an inward, active, and pleasant emotion.

Let’s unpack what that means.

Inward means that it tells you how YOU are feeling internally about yourself, rather than how an object is making you feel.  Think about feeling confident vs. feeling loyal – loyalty is an outward emotion, so the consumer feels loyal to some outside force (whether it’s a brand, model, etc.).  Meanwhile, he doesn’t feel confident to something, he just feels it about himself!

Active means that the consumer is taking action in some way to feel confidence.  Think feeling interest vs. feeling amazement.  When a consumer is interested, he is taking more action than sitting back and being wowed when he feels amazement.

And well, you know what pleasant means.

When it comes to buying a car, 29% of emotions are in the Dread channel.  This isn’t surprising, because sometimes the last thing a person wants to do is deal with a sleazy dealership sales guy (not that all are sleazy!… just a majority).  Emotions in the Dread channel are fairly evenly split, with a slight bump in Fear.  Each of these emotions are outward, passive, and unpleasantOutward meaning how the consumer feels about actually buying the car, rather than how it makes him feel about himself in the process. Passive meaning that he’s not taking any action to feel this way.

Approximately 24% of emotions identified fall within the Serenity channel.  This channel is similar to Joy in that these emotions are pleasant and inward, but the emotions in Serenity are passive rather than active.  That means that there is no action on behalf of the consumer to feel this way… they just feel serene and at peace, rather than a more active emotion like joy or interest.

So What?

What does this mean for automotive brands trying to sell cars? A few things:

  • Be mindful of the way your dealers approach your consumers. Rather than focusing on the features of the car (outward), instead focus on the benefit to the consumer (inward).

For example, saying “this car has a great audio system” may not matter to someone who is looking to feel confident and content with their decision.  These emotions are inward, so dealers should really highlight how the consumer can feel about herself.  Express how the consumer will feel when she’s in the car by using words like “peace,” “accepted,” and “freedom.”

  • Mitigate the Dread emotions by promoting their opposite – Joy.  Focusing your messaging around the joy that consumers feel while driving your car will be tantamount. 

Salespeople should talk about the energy, confidence, pride, and joy consumers will feel while driving the vehicle.

What Now?

Buying a car is just step one in the ecosystem of car ownership.  Stay tuned for our next post analyzing the emotions around owning (and servicing) a vehicle! 

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