One of the lessons early on in my career was about the role of advertising and distribution. We learnt that advertising can only bring a potential customer to the shop but there are many other factors (availability, price, salesman’s push) which influence brand decision.
Very often if the product asked or searched for at a shop is not available, chances are that the next acceptable (and available) brand is bought. We usually witness that with soft drink brands – if the restaurant doesn’t stock Coke, many would accept another cola brand. So distribution plays a critical role be it in consumer goods, durables or high-value items. There are very few categories and brands which enjoy absolute loyalty where a just-as-good or comparable competing brand will not be acceptable. Some frequent flyers will insist on an airline brand out of genuine preference or mileage-driven loyalty.
Aside from distribution, other factors also come into play. It is usually apparent in consumer durable purchase especially in a multi-brand outlet. A consumer may enter a shop with a brand in the consideration set but the salesman’s push (motivated perhaps by margins) and other offers may end up buying a brand outside of that set. So brand choices and the final sale are not as linear as ‘saw the ad and bought the brand‘.
I was reminded all of this when I was in the market for a car having sold my 10-year old Ford Fusion. I am not a car enthusiast and wasn’t keen on spending more than Rs.8-9 lakhs for a car. Ford wasn’t in my consideration set as my service experience with them was poor driven by huge recurring costs. Funnily enough, their advertising effort trying to quell this ‘Ford care is expensive’ perception did not cut ice with me. I was keen on Maruti Baleno not because of any rational reasons (yes the budget played a part) but I simply liked the looks of the car. Moreover, the option of Apple CarPlay in one of the models was a magnet for the Apple fan in me. The perception of Maruti’s service and maintenance being relatively cheaper also played a part. So with a choice of one, I entered the Nexa Motors showroom with much enthusiasm. The CarPlay option was ruled out quickly as it was beyond my budget and poor value given the poor quality of Apple Maps and Siri in India. Just as I made my choice of the model, I was casually informed of the waiting period for delivery: 24 weeks. As six month waiting period for a car was not something I was willing to accept. I guess the waiting period is a sign of the brand’s popularity and demand in a way. I am sure there are a whole lot of people who are willing to wait six months (most likely with a car which could be replaced when the new purchase is delivered), but that wasn’t a choice for me. The desire for the brand was also not so high that I was willing to wait. I have been managing with a mix of local auto transport, Uber or Ola for the last few weeks. I have also decided to consider other brands like Honda Jazz and maybe the upcoming Honda WR-V. The primary motivation: ready availability of the model I wanted. Of course, the positive equity of Honda played a role too but funny how brand choices get made.
Amidst all this, I am puzzled by the blasé attitude of a showroom sales team and the brand for the loss of a sale. There was no follow up or an effort to convert the query into a booking. Sure, it is just one sale lost and I am sure they are in a happy place with a huge demand and a six-month waiting period. I had also tweeted about this tagging @NexaExperience but it seems they haven’t seen it or if they did, simply chose to ignore it. Understandably there isn’t much they can do if the production capacity cannot meet the demand. However, I am surprised to see continued investments in the brand with another variant being launched (I am not sure if that will have a shorter waiting period for delivery).
Simply put, it is a pity if the combination of a good product and a desire created does not result in a sale. Where’s the ROI?