I was in the car leasing business straight out of college and I did well, but I had a rough time with a memorable customer.
He asked me to get him a white Chevy wagon. Nothing fancy, just some air conditioning, and if it had power windows, that was fine.
What he didn’t know was at my firm we simply didn’t put out stripped down vehicles, for at least a few reasons.
First, as used cars two, three and four years later, they wouldn’t be attractive to resale buyers. They’d remain unsold for long periods, and that loses money in depreciation and flooring costs.
Secondly, when it comes to leasing, your rate will not increase substantially, if at all if you have power windows, a good sound system, custom wheel covers, and the like.
These items bring up a car’s value on resale, so without going into the math, your monthly lease payment stays in the same range if you have the goodies or not; and of course having them makes driving more pleasurable.
My customer wanted a stripped Chevy, so I found the least fancy one the company would buy and I delivered it to him.
He nearly shrieked: “That’s not white; it’s P— yellow!”
It was officially called “something” white, but he had a point, it had a little beige in it.
To him, that made the car seem too rich, too fancy.
“If I drive up to farmers in that they’ll think I’m making too much money on them,” he declared.
I think I mumbled “Try it and you’ll like it,” and finally, he succumbed.
Anyway, in his mind, a car means something very important, and that meaning is way different than in my mind. He wanted his car to make a modest impression, and perhaps no impression at all.
Our cars “talk” to our customers and to our colleagues. Generally, they signal our definitions of ourselves, and sometimes, they’re chosen carefully to control perceptions, as in the Chevy lessee’s case.
Recently, I spent time with an insurance executive who drives a new pickup truck though he lives in one of the most sophisticated cities. He grew up on a farm, and he tells his clients all about this, getting a lot of mileage from this background.
So, a pickup says: “I’m true to my roots” and “I’m conservative” and also, “I’m not making a lot of money off of my clients.”
Deep inside, we’re not our cars or our cell phones or other tools, but our choices will always send signals to customers, and if we’re smart, we may orchestrate those signals to produce the best possible results.