Sara is a 32-year-old car shopper who is uncomfortable with the traditional vehicle financing experience.
She's single and a senior marketing associate at her company. She doesn't want to be misled or appear naive at the dealership, so for financial literacy information she turns to the tool she trusts: her cellphone.
Sara isn't real — but she could be. She's a persona developed by Mercedes-Benz Financial Services, in partnership with consulting firm Projekt202, to capture the attention of millennial and Generation Z consumers and usher them into a new phase of their lives — one of financial competency and vehicle ownership. Mercedes-Benz Financial Services uses Sara as a template for potential customers navigating the company's digital tools while shopping for a vehicle.
Persona crafting is one method lenders are exploring as they try to develop approachable, accessible ways to minimize what Mercedes-Benz Financial Services calls the "friction points" of vehicle buying.
The effort focuses on millennials, which the Center for Generational Kinetics in Austin, Texas, defines as those consumers born 1977 to 1995, and Gen Z, those born 1996 and later.
Two other personas are Oscar and Evelyn.
Oscar is 35. He's a new customer. He has one child and little time to negotiate. He wants a car-buying journey without hassle or redundancy.
Evelyn, 41, is married with three children. She has been a loyal Mercedes-Benz customer and expects to be taken care of. She has a personal relationship with her salesperson.
Before launching digital tools, Mercedes-Benz relies heavily on focus groups of prospective customers. Feedback from the interviews is interpreted by a relatively new group of employees — technology anthropologists. These employees, who often have a background in psychology, translate the insights from the focus groups for user experience designers to incorporate into the digital tools.
More than a half dozen technology anthropologists work at Mercedes-Benz Financial Services, according to Rodolfo Dominguez, the lender's chief digital officer.
Mercedes-Benz Financial Services has been focusing on younger customers since 2014, around the launch of the entry-level CLA. The CLA extended Mercedes-Benz's lineup to include a swath of buyers the company had never marketed to before, most of whom represented younger demographics.
In addition to its own app, Mercedes-Benz Financial Services has invested in and partnered with AutoGravity, a vehicle shopping and financing platform. The platform helps Mercedes-Benz Financial Services reach millennials interested in shopping for a Mercedes-Benz vehicle and automotive financing. On the AutoGravity platform through Mercedes-Benz Financial Services, the applicants' average age is 38, vs. an average age of 50 for in-dealership applicants.
"Personas help us. Technology and humanity are on a path to converge," Dominguez said. "We want to make sure what we're putting out there speaks to our customers from a human perspective."