How to make a car go faster

Imagine you are part of an Innovation Team at a major sports car brand. Now imagine that the sales of your flagship sports car, only released last year, have tanked after a competitor launched a very similarly priced and spec model that is 30% faster accelerating 0-60mph and a has a better top speed, while still being just as fuel efficient with the same level of CO2 emissions. The CEO has asked you to come up with an idea that makes the car faster to combat this. What would you do?

One place to start might be the engine. Boring out the cylinders, perhaps a upgraded exhaust system are all options. Perhaps it's worth looking at the technology within the car and building a new performance chip to allow more fuel and air into the engine in sport mode. Everyone gets very excited when you suggest a Nitrous Oxide 'Fast & Furious' special edition of the car. You go to the CEO with your ideas and she says that's no good, she confides in you that you need solutions you can roll out in the next 6-12 months or the company will be in serious difficulty. All those engineering solutions will all take to long and be costly to implement. 

So you now know you need sales in hurry. The obvious lever that lots of companies would pull at this point is price. Make it cheaper than the competitor and offer very attractive finance deals. You take this to the Finance Director but they say the company just can't afford to take that hit on the flagship model. 

Then you think about the context the car is seen in. Perhaps a partnership with a F1 team could create the association of performance with the model. Maybe creating something like an augmented reality or virtual reality driving experience and content around this would give consumers a simulation of speed. The Marketing Team say they did that two years ago with the another model, it was very expensive and didn't shift the needle on sales. No one is keen to repeat this. You try to convince them this time it's different, consumers are more aware of the technology and it has come on leaps and bounds, but to no avail. 

What options are left? You start to think about the other selling points of the car. The seats are comfy, it comes in lots of colours and there are lots of personalisation options. If you're being honest with yourself, this is no different from the other competitors, but perhaps if you could construct a new USP based on a benefit other than speed you could arrest the decline. It would require a lot of advertising budget though, which the Marketing Team say has already been committed into performance media just to keep the test drive numbers up. They have a small amount of budget left they could divert into advertising the other benefits, but nobody thinks this will be enough to change the company's fortunes around. 

The CEO gets increasingly frustrated with the lack of ideas. Think bigger she insists. Where can you go from here? When it comes to the 4 'P's you've pretty much explored everything. Product, price, promotion and placement. 

Rory Sutherland would famously say there is one very important thing you haven't really considered here = PERCEPTION. I'd say this is fifth 'P', but perhaps the most powerful lever of all. Consumers are human beings, and human beings are famously not rational. This means sometimes the answer is counter intuitive. We are all very good at rationalising our purchases once we've bought them, but human nature is fuelled by feelings, not facts. All you really need is for current and potential customers to feel in their hearts that the car is faster. This suddenly opens up a whole new range of possibilities.

Now you start to think about speed not in terms of miles per hour, but in terms how we experience it. That doesn't mean the answer is adding some go faster stripes, since looking fast isn't the same as 'feeling fast'. Feeling fast is that smile you have when you hear the noise of the engine starting it up. It's the way your stomach lifts as you put your foot down.  For most road drivers it's those small little moments of speed that count, like cornering roundabout, accelerating down an empty country road or beating someone at traffic lights. Now think about how that could play out on a test drive. Perhaps you create a new test drive route for the model that includes more country roads or roundabouts. Maybe you go so far as to plant a driver in the rival model to follow customers out on test drives. When the customer gets to some lights, the plant pulls up to the side and deliberately revs up then loses the race at the lights. Then when you get your own car washed at the weekend you can shake the feeling your car is actually faster than it was when it was dirty (this is a real thing, google it). You start to think about ideas like free car washing for all owners of your brand model at the dealership, not only does it add perceived value to the car that perhaps those owners will talk to others about but it allows the customer to build up a relationship with the dealer, increasingly the likelihood they'll upgrade to the next model. 

Reading the above you probably had lots of other ideas too, which is the point. The above is an example of a warm up exercise I use in workshops to demonstrate how important it is to have at the centre of your thinking an understanding of how we as human beings make decisions. Too often when faced with a business problem we put on our rational work hats and forget people have feelings too and those feelings can be powerful.