From volume to value

By Marta Lobato — Senior Researcher at A Piece of Pie

Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

The first car I ever drove was a third-hand Seat Ibiza that my mum had bought to drive to work in the villages in Northern Spain. I was 18, and the first girl from my friend group to get a driving license. The car felt old, but it did its job. As a car enthusiast, I was mostly concerned with how the car felt. What excited me most was controlling of the gears, the thrill I felt when the car accelerated, and the strength in its brakes. As I got older, my car started to mean more than its perks, it became the place where I could escape, my moving private space, my nook for de-compressing and my ticket to freedom.

13 years later, I now find myself conducting research for the automobile sector about perceptions and purchasing behaviour with people from all over the world. Exploring everything from electrification and car-sharing to the future of mobility.

Time is accelerating. Society started evolving dramatically with the advent of industrial capitalism 200 years ago and as new technologies develop, so do new ideas. Competition is fierce and standards are high.

But do people change that fast? Human brains are wired to rely on habit and what is known; we are wired for stability and prediction, as it helps us make decisions.

When conducting these ethnographic interviews, it did not surprise me to find people feeling torn between wanting to enjoy a nostalgic, motor-engine world and the need to care for the environment. Suddenly, owning a car became an economic and environmental burden, and yet it remains highly valued. If a car is no longer a ticket to freedom for the new generations then, what is it?

In recent years, the automobile sector began focusing on adding value through cutting-edge technology: from a fully connected cars to autonomous cars and alternative modes of access. From the studies we have conducted at A Piece of Pie, we know that when no real use-cases are shown to costumers, people end up buying into new technology either because they like to feel modern or because they feel it is “the unmistakable direction the future is going towards” and they have no other option. Thus, being a huge loss of potential for the industry.

In a sector that is shifting from volume to value, how do you emotionally appeal to customers still looking back at the “good old days”?

Here are three lessons from social science research we’ve conducted:

1. Cars remain highly emotional products having a “fun” and “aspirational” characteristic. Cars might one day become mere modes of transportation that take us from A to B, but even then, there will be an emotional need to address. Although people are becoming more open to the idea of car sharing and other modes of car use, we found that individual ownership is still preferred, especially at the time of forming a family.

This means that car brands that are opting for alternative modes of access need to truly grasp how such options would fit into the costumers’ lifestyles.

2. Customers want to feel they are taking part in the formation of new technologies. We have seen this in our research. Many times, customers are unable to express exactly how they would want product features to look like. However, anthropologists are able unlock this information via qualitative techniques.

Adding value here is knowing your customer from both a cultural and user perspective, then going further to where they perceive you’re changing their lives for the better.

3. People understand mobility ecosystems as a way of shaping their own world.

The only way to build successful ecosystems nowadays is by ensuring that people can find their own ways in it. In other words, that they can use those ecosystems to their convenience. Modern individualism is all about believing one can create and shape their own distinct life paths.

Add value by shaping your path closely with the people that are looking to benefit from it. Include them, make them feel part of your brand, customers like to know that they are being valued, as we explain in this previous article about trust.

Looking to create more value?

At a Piece of pie we are developing a collaborative way of working that connects people with our clients in meaningful ways. As a consultancy that focuses on creating meaningful impact for both, we can unlock the cultural and emotional drivers and needs of people in an ever-changing world. Sounds interesting? Drop us an email at




Global consultancy that brings meaningful impact through our unique business anthropology and emotionality approach.

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A Piece of Pie

A Piece of Pie

Global consultancy that brings meaningful impact through our unique business anthropology and emotionality approach.

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