“Did you see the cup?” asked my wife as we circled the Subaru Outback that magically had landed in our driveway.
Did I see it? It was the first thing I noticed. And the object I kept returning to as we performed our buyer inspection. Fully aware of my ignorance in all things automotive, I enlisted my ex-car salesman brother-in-law to weigh in, as well. Within seconds of kicking the tires and goosing the flux capacitor (or whatever), he too was entranced. “Oh, they gave you a cup? That’s awesome.”
The object of awe was a 32 ounce branded tumbler that comes complimentary with all Carvana vehicles. And the question is this: why, in the midst of such a significant transaction, was a cup getting so much attention? Tens of thousands of dollars and the safety of my family on the line, yet all eyes were on some dumb piece of plastic.
This is a testament to power of delight, and why so many brands are taking this very squishy discipline super seriously these days. When done right, these moments of delight have a strong, suprarational effect on us. We feel joy, appreciation and excitement beyond any reasonable explanation. They’re the cherry on top of the sundae.
But cherries alone do not a sundae make. Brands can’t survive on delight alone.
The Carvana cup only made an impression because of everything that surrounded it—from an effortless online shopping experience to a delivery person who was so impartial to closing the deal, he pointed out imperfections that we glossed over (that flux capacitor was in tip-top shape, though). All these moments filled that humble plastic cup with memories and meaning, turning it into a meaningful artifact of an experience that crisscrossed digital, physical and interpersonal touchpoints.
In our rush to delight our customers, we often forget that the cherry gets its power from the sundae, not the other way around. Had Carvana not delivered on everything that matters, that cup would have been exposed for the empty piece of plastic it was. The whole gesture would have rung hollow—a cherry on top a sh*t sundae.
But great brand experiences are built from the inside out. It’s not merely a question of how you design the customer journey, but how you equip and incentivize your workforce to deliver on it.
And that is what made our Carvana experience so special. Sure, the technology was slick and seamless and the schwag was thoughtful. But what brought it all home (both literally and figuratively) was an employee who genuinely enjoyed his job, and whose job was to make us happy.
No cherry in the world could ever top that.
Matt Brehony is a senior brand manager at Joe Smith, the brand consultancy of Padilla.