In October, US auto sales were up 6.1 per cent. Chrysler had its best October since 2001 and figures from the NFDA show that there has been a 14.2 per cent year-on-year increase in car ownership registrations.
A car is a significant purchase, and often times, an emotional purchase, much like that of a house. With so many makes and models to choose from and the average cost of a car in the US more than $32,000, it is not a financial decision that anyone makes without a considerable amount of research and thought.
For the owner, a possible continual source of draining finances. For the automotive industry, a continual source of product life-time revenue. Therefore, the experience of both parties requires significant attention and investment. For some automotive dealers it might be based on price – there is always some wiggle room when negotiating a car sale that just wouldn’t apply to the purchase scenario of a loaf of bread but like a visit to a local bakery, there is also an experiential side to differentiating on product and service.
Never underestimate the sensory power of ‘that new car smell’ but also look a little closer at how the automotive industry has had to adapt around digital and customer experiences to make the deal happen and the relationship sustain.
Let us explore three very different approaches to marketing a machine that has been around since 1886 in a world that is far removed from how it operated even as recently as five years ago:
1. The digital showroom
31 per cent of 35 year olds and under – Millennials, if you would rather – would happily buy a new car online and by-pass the physical showroom, according to research by GfK. Enter the increasingly utilized digital showroom…
Stunning web design and intuitive usability across all devices to showcase cars in as interactive a means as possible puts the product and customization options right into the hands of the curious buyer and all long before they even sit behind the wheel on a test drive. Of course, you can even arrange that test drive from the site itself, having built your dream setup and design. This is multi-channel and the perfect blend of online and offline.
A tablet experience is where contextualization comes to the fore; it is likely to need just the bare minimum of options presented before you on the touchscreen. Great visuals, a chance to build up your ideal model from the base options, allowing you to see how it would render in that metallic blue color you have always dreamed of and not have to worry about navigating a desktop website full of information about servicing your vehicle, financial options and more ‘clutter’ that just doesn’t help to move the user towards purchase.
So long and farewell to a handful of printed brochures and ‘Hello’ to videos, user reviews and immersive content that tells of thrilling adventures you might have in your Land Rover or just what it feels like to hit the open road with the top down, as you seek adventures in-between chapters of Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ that you have on your e-Reader.
2. Customer experience front and center
Manufacturers know that cars are expensive, there is a lot of technology, research and development and years of prestige to factor into your pricing and so you need to differentiate further from a rival with a similar setup and to pull away from other competition while setting the standard across the whole automotive industry of how things can and should be done in the world of the more discerning customer. Step up the President & CEO of Mercedes Benz US – Steve Cannon.
Steve Cannon is the self-proclaimed “chief advocate for CX in our organization” – in what is a breath-taking and refreshing approach to doing business in the fiercely-competitive automotive space.
On a recent CXPA webinar, as part of a day of celebrating customer experience, he shared some of the following thoughts on his perspective and the company approach:
- “Customer experience is the most important thing we do. We are always going to seek to redefine the limits of the automobile. We have a brand promise that says “The best or nothing””
- “There are 375 independent dealers that have to bring our unified CX to life every day.”
- “Operational excellence is the ticket to entry in today’s world but it only gets you to ‘satisfied’ and not ‘excellence’ or ‘delight’. ‘Satisfied’ is vanilla to me”
As part of identifying how to change approaches to customer experience delivery and to ensure that it isn’t just CX talk that comes down from on high, Mercedes issued an internal survey to staff. One of the most fascinating findings was that 2/3 of their dealerships had staff that had never driven a Mercedes. Mercedes Benz implemented a program to get all their staff at least two days use of a Mercedes Benz. That went across 17,000 employees. An ROI winner, maybe not…but a leap of faith in getting the customer experience into the mindset of employees and a critical understanding of the product employees sell and work with every day.
3. Enlist the support of influencers from outside the automotive space
The Ford Mustang has been an iconic piece of design, engineering and romanticism since 1965. The sports car style coupe offered escapism, identity and innovation way back then and further still today in its latest iteration.
So what is the VP of Global Marketing for Ford, Jim Farley, seeking to offer as part of the Ford Mustang’s 50th anniversary? Farley is taking it outside. He is going beyond the automotive written press you might expect to find them working with to generate favorable column inches, social mentions and more.
Ford is connecting the Mustang experience with cultural influencers, story-tellers and content creators to develop the story of the icon and seed it online for digital consumption converting into real-world outcomes. Ford is focusing on Mustang as an experience, “What it is like to be on a road trip with no agenda, no schedule, just to be free,” Mr. Farley said.
A curated list of 50 experts will be tasked with devising the ultimate route for the Ford Mustang to take in the spirit of freedom, adventure and exploration. This approach will undoubtedly stimulate conversation around the route, the essence of what is modern day popular culture and intrinsically link pop culture past with present via the medium of the iconic automobile. Strap in and enjoy the content marketing ride.
Technology driving automotive experiences
As we can see with the above tactics and strategies that mix the digital with the organizational culture, through to crafting the online conversation, there are a multitude of methods available to the marketer to cut through an automotive landscape that is far removed from the linear physical showroom route of yester-year.
It is certain that the orchestration of these experiences will be reliant on technology to do the heavy-lifting that delivers a greater customer lifetime value and fosters engagement elevating the brand via the shared experience.
Let us know your experience of how your interactions with the automotive industry have changed in the digital age.