Digital Drives Automotive
Written by Dan Marsh, Digital Strategy Director
The Changing Face Of Customer Research
Tyre kickers aside, the first step in every automotive purchase is research. From the days your Dad insisted on coming with you to inspect your first car at a dodgy 2nd hand forecourt, right up to modern 3D configurators where your fully spec’d dream car glistens beautifully from all angles through your tablet screen – you’re making sure what you buy is going to give you what you want. A car is commonly the second costliest household purchase behind property, so consumers are prepared to put in the ground work in researching their options and finding the right choice for them.
And this is where brands have been increasingly recognising the power of digital for some years now. The aforementioned interactive configurators are now par for the course; but automotive manufacturers are among the most innovative in providing prospective customers with ways of enhancing their purchase through digital.
Shifting Metal Through Search
In research published in March 2016, through a partnership with Luth Research, Google disclosed that a typical car purchase can involve more than 900 potential online interactions. As customers encounter a myriad of ‘micro moments’ involved in their purchase – such as querying which car is the safest, which is most economical, how do they compare for standard equipment etc.
Many of these moments (as with so many of our daily moments) users will turn to search to filter their initial exploration list down to a slim consideration list. Of course, the outcome of many of these searches may not be brand owned (search ‘safest cars’ and AutoExpress rank strongest), but this simply emphasises the importance in recognising that your brands PR or influencer outreach strategy can ensure you stay in the mix even if you’re not in the top 3 organic search results or can’t afford to cast your paid search net that wide.
But visibility is one thing. Providing your brand retains its rightful place on your prospective buyers consideration list, Google goes on to emphasise the importance of ‘being useful’. And this is when digital really comes into its own for automotive buyers.
They’ve Done It With Groceries.., Why Not With Cars?
Research from Accenture in the US from as far back as April 2015 suggested that over 75% of drivers would consider conducting their entire car-buying process online – including purchase. That’s nearly 2 years ago, and technology moves apace, so what are brands doing to enable consumers to do just that?
At bigdog, we worked with Mazda to address their issue of no Mazda 3 demonstrators in the country for the UK launch; using 3D mapped VR to create a virtual showroom that replicated the experience of sitting in a demo model in the absence of a physical car to great effect - Mazda Case Study
In a similar vein, Audi recently announced they will be fitting all the UK dealerships with VR headsets to replicate the success of their entirely interactive Audi City flagship in London.
Volvo went one further, and created a Google Cardboard app as part of their XC90 vehicle launch campaign; providing prospects with access to a smartphone the opportunity to experience the car from the comfort of their armchairs. They’re now partnering with Microsoft in developing a Hololens experience to make car buying a full augmented experience
The theme for all this innovation is becoming more focused on the customer experience, and putting the needs of the modern digital consumer front and centre in how they make their products accessible before setting foot in a showroom.
Staying Connected On The Move
So that’s research and buying covered by digital, but what about the moment you drive off the forecourt? Here’s where some of the most exciting digital innovations are taking shape – actually while people are driving.
Let’s avoid the whole longer term direction of driverless cars for now, and stay with the current market. Digitally enabled enhancements for modern passenger cars are becoming a recurring theme in research and development for manufacturers, and increasingly a more visibly marketed selling point.
Citroën have taken the concept of a dashcam, and flipped it completely on its head with the inclusion of their connected smart cam – a HD camera integrated in the rear view mirror. Rather than the more practical, insurance-saving implications of having an on-board camera – Citroën have marketed the entire feature around safe, effortless sharing of journeys and in-car selfies on drivers friends social networks. Feeding off millennials need to constantly remain socially connected – even whilst driving. So much so, it’s the hero feature in their latest ATL campaign for the car.
Mercedes-Benz have developed Mercedes Me – a smartphone app designed to give vehicle owners increased remote access to vehicle features and services. Ever fancied parking your car at the push of a button when you’re not sat inside it; or having remote access to security or safety features? The app has been designed to provide smartphone access to a host of vehicle interactions.
And there are plenty more out there – we’ve barely got time to touch on the myriad of innovation being covered at Tesla! In short, manufacturers are now accepting that tech and innovation is high up on the shopping list of many customers as more and more daily lives are lived through smartphones, and are catering accordingly. In fact, the SMMT expects the number of connected vehicles on the road to reach 290-million by 2020 (increased from 84-million in 2014), so the onus is on the industry to continue catering to the increasingly digitally-savvy consumer… from start to finish.