Trust the Buzz! My Prius Experience – by Jeff Hirsch

One day, a friend let me drive his Prius.

Wow – what was that fun. It gets what per gallon? Are you serious? And it’s cool. Says all the right things about me. It costs what? About $30,000, loaded? Wow, I can be cool for half the price of a fancy Lexus or BMW? Way cool!

OK, I’m interested. My old Volvo is fading fast and I’ll need a car soon. So I start asking everyone I see driving a Prius what they think. I couldn’t stop them from talking. On the way in for coffee, on the out to work, with kids, with friends, dates, spouses – they drop everything to tell a stranger how wonderful their Prius is. It’s love!

Hey – I want to be in this club!

So now I am. And me – worldly, sophisticated, savvy – now I’m drinking the Kool-Aid too. The buzz grows…

The product is amazing. It delights me every time I get into the car. The dealer was incredible as well. Here’s the price. No premium over list, no tricks, in and out in a bit more than an hour. Then they delivered the car, with a full tank of gas, a week earlier than they promised.

It all begs a simple question. Do great products really need advertising?

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Prius ad. Why would I? Toyota has built a phenomenal product and delivers it with attentive, honest straightforward service. They under promise and over deliver. More importantly, every step of the process, every interaction with the car, seems to be enveloped in a warm, human touch.

You feel like you belong in that car. They made it just for you. Comfort, performance, some fun gadgetry – it’s all there because someone was thinking about me. Really thinking about what I want and what’s important to me. The follow through with the dealer was the icing on the cake.

Build a great product, seed it properly with public relations, control the message at the point of sale, and most importantly, humanize the experience. You’ll get the buzz. Everyone talks about, but no one trusts it. Because humanity can’t be quantified. Nor can the “buzz.”

But staying “in control” with the usual left-brain oriented, process-driven, quantifiable approaches provides a false sense of security. True, I can measure reach and frequency with ads, but are these numbers really meaningful in the age of Tivo, clutter, consumer awareness and cynicism?

Here’s some food for thought.

I wonder what would happen if American Airlines stopped making feel good TV ads that falsely promote their feel bad service. Rather, they take that money (and more) to rip out seats so that adults can sit comfortably, put an additional flight attendant in coach, feed their passengers and simply treat people with dignity, as if they were appreciated guests rather than cattle. They might want to simply pricing as well, while they’re at it.

Right, I don’t get it – the economics of the airlines business are so much more complicated than that. Still, simplistic as it is, it seems to me that people would start telling each other what great flights they had. Yes, it costs a bit more, but it was so worth it! Or better yet, it costs the same but it’s so much better! “You’re flying United? Why in the world would you do that when American is so much better? They really get me on American!”

Advertising is still an important awareness-raising tool in the marketing mix. But without a big idea, one that connects on a deep, human, emotional level, you’re just wasting your money.

So make it great, make it personal, humanize it, and you may hear a faint sound in the background. What is that? Sounds like kind of a…buzz.

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