I made the trip over to the Millbrook Proving Ground yesterday for the CENEX Low Carbon Vehicle show http://www.cenex-lcv.co.uk/2016/ – a compelling event that provides a fascinating insight into the future of motorised transport. The show looks at a range of options, from very highly efficient internal combustion engines to hybrids, electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cells and, for the first time this year, autonomous vehicles. An oasis of rational design and excellent engineering.
This was the first time I have experienced autonomous vehicles in person. Up until now I’ve been frankly prejudiced against them. Why? Because I’m an unreconstituted, unrepentent petrol head. I love driving, riding motorcycles and flying small aeroplanes, not just as a practical method of transport but as things that give me a great deal of personal pleasure and satisfaction.
To me vehicles aren’t like kitchen appliances. they aren’t just tools for a job. I’ve never bought a car or motorcycle that I haven’t felt an emotional attachment to. Considerations like safety, fuel efficiency and practicality have never even begun to feature in this. I don’t like travelling from A to Z in the most efficient manner possible, I often choose to go via C, F and Q, just because I want to.
Seeing autonomous vehicles in the fibreglass and engaging with the people who are manufacturing them opened my eyes to a different mindset. Vehicles that have an entirely focused single purpose – efficient transportation.
The logic is absolutely clear and irrefutable. A 100 per cent rational method of getting yourself from where you are to where you need to be as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Understanding the audience – rational vs emotive
In marketing we have the task of communicating products and services to target audiences in language that resonates with that audience and influences them to change their behaviour – to prioritise the purchase of what our client is selling.
In business to business marketing this generally demands messages that are more towards the rational end of the scale than the emotive.
This doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for emotive messaging – ultimately we are all human beings and we are all sentient creatures – but in business rationality comes first.
Even the most blinkered luddite can’t fail to be impressed by the technology and engineering that has been invested in autonomous vehicles, but one of the challenges that the industry faces then is in making people actually want to own them. Creating an emotive connection in a consumer audience to an entirely rational device that they choose in preference to something they may be highly emotionally committed to.
Or is it?
Of course, my judgment is clouded by my own emotions and I assume that everybody else has to be as emotionally connected to their cars as I am.
This is palpably not the case. You only have to see the number of people furtively (or not so furtively) using mobile phones, texting or updating their Facebook status behind the wheel. Or driving along in the middle lane of the motorway oblivious to the chaos they are causing around them. Not noticing a pedestian or a cyclist or failing to react in time to a change in speed limit or a red light.
These aren’t people who relish the control of operating a motor vehicle. These are people who pay the lightest regard to driving and are easily distracted from it because they wish they didn’t have to. Autonomous cars aren’t for me, they are for them.
And you know what? Roads will be so much better for everybody when autonomous cars are able to take control for them and free them up to do what they really want to be doing, which is talking on their phones, texting and updating their Facebook status, while being taken directly and efficiently to precisely where they want to be.
So what am I trying to conclude from this? Simply that what one person may take as rational, another may consider emotive. The boundaries are blurred and it is up to the marketeer to understand the audience well enough to know what the attitudes and perceptions are and what language to use to appeal to them.
Where rational and emotive meet in the middle
Having come to terms with all this I walked around the next corner and came across something that turned all of my reasoning upside down. A three wheeled Morgan with an electric engine.
A three wheeled Morgan is exactly the sort of ridiculous contraption that I’m naturally emotionally attracted to. Originally designed in the 1920s, an archaic reminder of how things were in a bygone era.
An enormous motorcycle engine bolted to the front, of a tiny, inherently unstable vehicle that is half car, half motorcycle, with skinny wheels, no weather protection, no nod to safety, marginal brakes, no carrying capacity but which is ridiculously good fun to drive, for the few days in the year you are able to do so. A 100 per cent emotive purchase with no discernible rationality whatsoever.
So why build one with a 100 per cent rational powerplant? A highly efficient electric engine that makes no noise, that you fill up by plugging in. I ask myself who is going to buy something that has always been 100 per cent emotive. Emotionally it feels akin to getting married to a robot.
But then you have to stop and think about the future. With fossil fuels finite, roads ever more crowded, legislation more onerous and running costs ever less affordable, it isn’t hard to understand that this is the last stand of the emotive – as many of the benefits as possible retained in the face of an overwhelmingly rational world. Welcome to the future.
It’s just going to be up to us marketeers to persuade people to invest in it.