Imagine yourself, before leaving the house, switching on your car via smartphone, inputting your destination, choosing a playlist and warming up the seat.
As technological capability develops, customer relationships with their vehicles are changing. Technology is becoming the principal purchase driver, over style and performance which is not only specific to the product (the vehicle itself) but is also true of the service as a whole.
Worldwide car sales have grown little in the past 2 years whilst increasing connectivity has opened the doors for automotive companies to move away from product sales to a wider variety of mobility services and experiences. Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and virtual-reality showrooms are just some examples of how technology is changing the way we see cars. The vehicle is moving from a transportation device to becoming an extension of a smartphone delivering a variety of personalised in-car experiences.
How can these trends be used by the automotive companies; what do the customers expect and want from them and of course how marketing techniques align with these ever-changing trends?
“A principle desire for ownership is evolving into a need for mobility.”
Prompted by these questions we conducted a new study looking into the audiences of an array of automotive brands like Ford, Volvo, Aston Martin and Audi to name but a few. We identified their attitudes and motivations and how this understanding can inform the development of highly personalised communications and experiences.
The New Experience
The expectations of automotive customers have changed considerably in recent years from a product focus to an experience focus. A principle desire for ownership is evolving into a need for mobility. Hyundai Motor America’s CMO Dean Evans, when talking about the new ‘shopper assurance’ programme from Hyundai stated: “I don’t have to tell you we’re undergoing a paradigm shift when it comes to how people are buying cars.” The status quo for vehicle purchase has shifted away from a luxury statement to include many other factors. Looking through the lens of our data we can see that the millennial audience is interested in aspects such as cost-effectiveness, sound systems, fuel efficiency, safety, smartphone connection, low congestion charges and family-friendly features indicating many different purchase drivers affecting customers decision making.
In the study, we identified that the Aston Martin audience were 4.8x more respondent to online influencers than the Audi audience and 9x more affected by influencers than the Volvo audience. The audiences of Ford, Volvo and Audi follow similar influencers but are far less impacted by them.
This should raise the question of whether automotive brands like Ford, Volvo and Audi should explore the influencer marketing avenue in their strategies when their audience is relatively unaffected by them.
A New Opportunity for Dealerships
“The Audi audience, on the other hand, shows a greater online affinity towards technology brands, phones and communication services.”
New and alternative ways of mobility reveal the need for many automotive brands to adopt new business models to accommodate the shift from product to experience services. Companies such as Uber and Lyft have caused dramatic changes through the explosion of ride-sharing services with the value of ownership being in a resultant decline.
We can see many automotive brands adapting quickly and successfully to this new status quo. Volvo started its Care service which, similar to leasing, allows customers to enjoy a new Volvo without actually owning it. Volkswagen announced the launch of MOIA which targets itself to be ‘one of the world’s leading mobility service providers by 2025’. This is evidence of a shift away from a product-focus and exploring services that align with new customer demands.
Starcount’s study looking into the audiences of different automotive companies showed that the social media activity of the Volvo audience places high importance on personal finance services and companies related to saving money. With this insight in mind, we can see why the Care programme would help the Volvo brand cater to this audience. The Audi audience, on the other hand, shows a greater online affinity towards technology brands, phones and communication services with high online activity around brands such as Samsung and Microsoft. Similar to the growing smart home revolution, in-car smartphone capabilities are escalating in importance and are vital to the Audi audience. The Aston Martin audience is also technologically motivated but differs from the Audi audience in that they show a keener interest towards motorsports and Formula 1 racing. The performance of the car is, therefore, a key selling point for this audience and must be reflected by the brand. This information can help inform strategies for manufacturers and also dealerships, digging deeper into the passions and motivations of their respective audiences and differentiating from the competition.
Shifting Gears – The Online Experience
As methods of purchase become increasingly digitised there is a great need for automotive brands to accurately integrate their online with offline customer experiences. The primary stage of consumer research is online, but this does not mean consumers do not value a rewarding physical experience offered by the dealerships.
Integration between the online experience and the offline dealership experience needs to be smooth and seamlessly aligned to prospective customers’ age, influences, motivations and lifestyle.
The challenge for Automotive manufacturers is to utilise the data they hold for their customers. By delving deeper into real passions, influences and motivations they can develop highly personalised experiences for the showroom at speed. Integration between the online experience and the offline dealership experience needs to be smooth and seamlessly aligned to prospective customers’ age, influences, motivations and lifestyle.
The data can reveal unexpected areas of attention that are not always obvious to the brand. For example, looking into the Volvo audience we can see that the number of 18 – 24-year olds in the Volvo audience is 120% higher than the UK average. The number of 25 – 34-year olds is 50% lower than the UK average. The percentage of over 45’s in the Volvo audience is 70% lower than the UK average. The use of these insights can help automotive brands identify and profile their target market to adjust budget allocation on technological innovations and inform their communication strategies. It may prove powerful for a luxury automotive brands to recognise that, although they may not have high sales in the young demographic group, capturing their attention online and nurturing them could prove valuable in the future.
In terms of gender, the Aston Martin audience is 81% male and 19% female. The study showed that 73.79% of the Aston Martin audience is interactive with other automotive brands who share passions of mobility and who are well informed of the latest trends and innovations in the sector. All this information can feed into personalising the actual experience and service once the prospective customer visits the dealership.
The adoption of technology into the industry is not exclusive to the product. New tech capabilities must be brought into all aspects of the business from manufacturing all the way to the dealership. Offering quick and accurate connectivity combined with personalised experiences can be a lucrative avenue for many automotive brands. When data analytics underpins the marketing communications the result is intelligent and targeted messaging. It also enables the identification of trends and unique selling points in different customer segments. This is essential for automotive companies to employ into their operations as the customer expectation changes. When combined with social data, this data footprint can evolve into a detailed picture of who the customer is and what they are looking for, opening new doors to the potential of dealerships.