5 creative ideas for breathing new life into the sputtering auto industry
Cars are amazing. Combine art, technology and utility, add a little personality, and over time you have a rolling piece of popular culture. Everyone in the car business should thank their lucky stars they get to work with such incredible and influential products.
I grew up in Detroit, geeked out on cars and spent college summers doing hard labor on General Motors assembly lines. Working on a ton of car brands over the last 25 years, I’ve been a close observer of this fine business, and I believe gobs of annual sales are being left on the table. Many car companies are ignoring several gigantic warning signals that their futures could be less than rosy.
According to Bloomberg Businessweek, auto sales in the U.S. are in decline due to the widespread adoption of on-demand vehicle services, and analysts predict that they won’t bounce back. The auto industry is being disrupted by cheaper, more efficient transportation methods. Plus, cars are living longer these days, and younger generations don’t get the same buzz from owning one as previous generations did.
So, what does that mean for automakers, and how can brand marketers keep the industry alive? Here are a couple of ideas:
Borrow equity from emerging platforms
With more consumers purchasing goods and food online—and relying on fast delivery or on-demand service—there is a huge opportunity to insert your car brand into the delivery space.
A recent report from LEK Consulting states that the value of digital-delivery food orders will rise from $25 billion in 2018 to $68 billion by 2023 through services such as Postmates, Uber Eats, DoorDash and Grubhub. And with Amazon looking to become its own transportation and logistics company, now handling much of its own shipping, this is yet another chance to become a chosen partner.
The same could be said for ride-hailing services. With 53 percent of the U.S. population currently using platforms like Uber, Lyft and Juno, and an expected annual growth rate of 9.3 percent year-over-year, automakers need to think beyond car ownership and leasing. That could mean giving riders an incentive to pick your brand on existing platforms, or lending vehicles to drivers as a new stream of revenue.
Loyalty ain’t cheap, but it’s cheaper than conquest
The new-car market is shrinking, and as ownership becomes less of a priority, customer retention and brand loyalty are more important than ever. How can automakers keep current owners coming back? There are many ways data can be used to personalize offerings and create deep relationships with owners.
Look to other evolving industries, like banking, for inspiration. As human interaction is increasingly taken out of the banking process, locations are being reimagined: think community centers, bank-product education spaces, brand experiences. Or become an app-based transportation solution, even if point-to-point includes trains, planes and automobiles. Mobility can be more broadly defined.
Raising loyalty by just a few percentage points could save millions in traditional marketing costs.
Successful brands differentiate the experience
The customer experience begins well before somebody drives off in your well-crafted product.
Successful businesses are able to identify and remove friction points. From disruptors like Amazon and Uber, to established players like Target and Walmart, the auto industry could benefit from taking a page out of their playbooks.
Most buyers do enough online research that they know exactly what they want by the time they hit the showroom. So, when your customer arrives, you should know everything about them—what specific car they want (not just the model), their credit score and even how they take their coffee. If Starbucks knows that much about me from a $4 purchase from their app, shouldn’t the same experience be available for customers coming in for a $40,000 purchase?
Make your advertising stand out
Auto advertising spend in 2018 was around $18 billion in the U.S. alone. Yet, 90 percent of the ads are interchangeable and forgettable. Advertising has but one purpose—make me want to buy your car! Oddly, most car marketers focus on how to cram more parody features into their work as opposed to focusing on the art of persuasion. Creativity is a gigantic free lever, a bookable asset. If you broadcast messages that people love, they will buy things.
Change or die, literally
It’s not just the automotive industry. Consumer packaged-goods, telecommunications, entertainment and many other sectors are feeling the disruption, too. The problem is, no one is paranoid enough. Think about it: If every vehicle has roughly the same features and technology, the only difference is brand experience, innovation, partnerships and messaging. So, what are you going to do?
I love the car business, and it’s my mission to help it soar. There are a ton of ideas like these that can help fortify a car marketer’s future. You simply need a leader who mandates it and a healthy helping of bravery, imagination, internal alignment and thoughtful execution.