My move to the suburbs about 18 months ago after living and playing in Manhattan came about soon after our daughter was born. New York City is great and I have loved my decade midtown, but stroller rage one afternoon up on The High Line was a turning point, and so my wife and I started to look for places to live in Westchester.
Very soon after we were moving into a new home and my wife bought the obligatory SUV complete with baby car seat. It wasn’t long before the back of the car was covered in Frozen Elsa toys and dry yogurt. We were suburbanites!
I needed something for me. Too afraid to leap onto a Harley Davidson, my midlife crisis steered me in a different direction…
It started with a Tweet…
As a Brit living in the US I don’t know why I had this almost sudden and acute craving to get a Jeep Wrangler. I had never been in one before and honestly after a ride in a friend’s 2 door I was a little cramped and confused – but I was also hooked. I did some research for about 3 hours and decided I wanted one – I really wanted one! It was going to be an impulse buy I guess. I was excited. This was going to be MY car sans baby car seat.
Now, given that I work for a company that helps clients deliver customer service over social media (and we have clients like Audi who do a great job with it), I decided to post onto Twitter. The Tweet shown above basically said “WHO WANTS MY MONEY??”
This was going to be my great social experiment. I was already salivating at the idea of a blog post that would cry out triumphantly that the most social dealership was going to snatch my business away from a local Jeep center or that some other car company was going to brand jack and try to convince me to go with an alternative manufacturer.
So out went my experimental tweet. Confidently I awaited a reply…
3 days later, a few friends asked me how the search for my new Jeep was going? How had the tweet landed and who was engaging with me over social media? I expressed my disappointment and explained that Jeep didn’t get back to me. Perhaps I had simply overestimated the notion that people would express interest in buying a new car over social. So I searched on Twitter for “I want a new Jeep”. There they were, a futile stream of social customers all expressing a common desire to buy a Jeep. All unanswered. I was amazed.
In a kind of protest I decided to look for alternative modes of immature transport. Nothing suited. The fact is that in this regard, nothing really competes with a Jeep. There is no real alternative to what the Jeep offers. Perhaps that’s the point – Unlike other highly contested industries such as travel and hospitality that have bravely and successfully embraced social media as a way to provide some significant service differentiation – Jeep just don’t have to try.
So I spoke to friends. How do you buy a new car here? I was pointed to TrueCar and Car Guru. Essentially these are simple search and aggregation sites that look at my car of choice and location along with preferred trim color etc and connect me with dealerships in a reasonable range and then directly connect me with the sales people in those dealerships. I found 3.
The first 2 had ‘my’ Jeep on the forecourt. Gleaming in the morning sun.. I had to resist the urge to lunge toward it as I hurled cash at the salesman. I needed to feign my apathy and indifference. Classic.. Of course any decent sales person can see right through that. Both of them explained the features in details. The safety ratings, engine etc. Went through the warranty and resale values. Both asked if I had a child and showed how the car seat hooked up.. The 3rd sales person (about 90 mins away from my home!) talked to me at length. Having also asked if I had a child (This is one of the ways they determine 2 versus 4 door) the sales person said – I am guessing this car doesn’t get the car seat in it. This going to be your ride! About the same age, the sales person told me nothing about the car – we talked about being in mid 40s and wanting a jeep. What it meant to own one. I told him I was going to buy from him and during the paperwork I also told him about my failed social media experiment. He told me that Jeeps ‘sold themselves’.. I believed him. It’s a market of one – outside of the luxury cache of BMW or Audi.
As I rode my new (well new to me) 4 door Unlimited Sahara – in Anvil (battleship grey paint) – home with a beaming smile and a visibly moving fuel gauge, I thought back to my original tweet. Social buying isn’t for everyone, but it is really important for industries where there is heady competition – and where the barriers to change are so low.
Paul Johns is the Chief Marketing Officer at McGraw-Hill Education. Mr. Johns was previously the CMO at Conversocial, and the Global Head of Marketing and Communications for Thompson Reuters. Paul has contributed a several articles to ExecutiveVine.com. Follow Paul on Twitter and LinkedIn.