Driving into the Future

Issue 8: Driving Into The Future

Written by Peter Rosenwald

A lot of change is happening these days, but one thing remains the same – American’s love their cars! In this issue of Insider’s Corner, Peter examines some driving trends in the automotive industry explains why good data is still key.

Read Peter’s previous post for some post-pandemic predictions.

Driving Into The Future

What the future holds for marketers in any industry remains shrouded in mystery.

Who would have believed that bicycles would, as reported by the Washington Post, be flying out of the stores like toilet paper? Who would have predicted that “ride sharing” would morph into “car sharing” and that the car sharing market would be poised to grow into a serious business? Who would have guessed that more and more car buyers would surf the internet to discover which car they wanted to buy and would complete the transaction without a face-to-face with the dealer or kicking a single tire?

The Changes Are Major

Two factors appear to be fueling this change and will certainly weigh heavily in determining what’s coming next:

  1. Major changes in the ways we live our lives.

Driven by the Covid-19 pandemic, each of us are starting to question many of our traditional life patterns – from commuting to and working from an office or principally at home, to owning or simply sharing housing and transportation.

  1. Major changes in what we consider important.

Many of us have recently had substantial time in semi-isolation to gaze at the changing world and consider the new normal. This has helped us rediscover family, nature, hobbies and other interests, and has elevated their relative importance over job status, airline mile accumulation and perhaps even income.

To gauge the impact, it is instructive to look at the future of our relationship with automobiles.

A Driving Force In American Life

There are estimated to be 838 cars for every one thousand people in the US, more than any country except San Marino, Monaco and New Zealand.1 More and more people all over the world are asking whether we really need this many, especially given the growing urban-area congestion and environmental impact. It is a valid question. But at the same time, the need for social distancing has made the family car, which provides a high degree of viral protection not available on public transportation or even outdoors, an essential component of a new-normal lifestyle.

Changing life patterns must focus the mind of any car marketer. Despite the temporary pandemic-caused doldrums for auto sales, the good news opportunities around the corner would appear to outweigh the current bad news. Things should change positively as the economy opens up and the new normal reveals itself. We can only guess how much.

On The Road Again

MotorTrend quotes the design director of Jaguar as perceptively predicting, “…people are going to be increasingly concerned about health, air quality, pollution, traveling… Are people really going to want to get into some automated Uber pod, squeeze in there, and go down the street in this thing, or are they going to want their personal space in their own car now?”2 Industry research affirms that consumers consider local travel by personal vehicle to have the lowest risk followed closely by personal bike riding and walking.3

How many of those new cyclists will have found that cycling is a fast, safe, healthy and inexpensive way to commute to work when and if commuting is actually necessary? How many will want to test alternatives when exposed to come-ons like, “How to enjoy all the benefits of car travel without the hassles of car ownership,” from ZipCar, Car2Go and an increasing number of regional and local companies? The enduring status symbol of car ownership might be replaced for some with “no-car” ownership but the numbers are unlikely to be large.

Data-Driven Marketing Is Key

Car companies have recently been concentrating their advertising spend on 30 second TV commercials mostly focused on the incentive of deferred payment options so new vehicle purchasers can look beyond the immediate economic difficulties of the pandemic before they are required to start paying for their new cars. That’s likely to be temporary.

What is of prime importance is, as ever, building long-term relationships, both with existing customers and potential new customers and being able to reach the right cohorts with the right message at the right time. That’s why brands using imaginative data-driven marketing programs for continuous contact can keep these audiences involved and informed. Good data is essential.

It is good to remind them not only of new-vehicle purchase opportunities but also of still-open service departments, no-contact vehicle drop-offs and repairs, test drives and benefits relevant to their new lifestyles. Certainly, the unquestionable appeal to families of the safety and fun of the open road replacing suspect air travel is certain to have wide appeal.

In my experience, customer-facing retailers of most kinds, certainly auto dealerships and insurance offices, neither like nor are proficient at preparing and distributing marketing materials. That’s not what they do best.

Thus, many companies have found that with the right data, this production can be centralized and, most importantly, appear to the recipient to have come from the local dealer. That keeps the dealer happy while both improving the quality and the efficiency of the communications. In difficult times like these, “curriculum” communications, built on a carefully planned learning series, can be very effective.

You will no doubt remember from our childhood reading that when poor Rip Van Winkle awoke after being asleep for 20 years, he found everything around him had changed. We are happily not there yet and the future holds plenty of promise even in its new normal.

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_vehicles_per_capita
2 https://www.motortrend.com/news/post-pandemic-auto-world/
3 https://www.caranddriver.com/news/a32784601/post-pandemic-youre-more-likely-to-take-more-road-trips/

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