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  • Delna Avari

Auto marketers! Watch out: Speed breaker ahead!

The auto industry is fiercely competitive, with challenges in the auto industry such as new car launches and aggressive deals being rolled out faster than ever. And yet, somehow auto marketing is still stuck in the slow lane; at times disconnected from increasingly savvy consumers. The locus of control of narrative is moving further away from the brand owner and auto marketers need to watch for some of these common marketing missteps in auto industry.

Stay the course

It takes years to build brand credibility, a reality that demonstrates one of the significant challenges in auto marketing. Brands which consistently stand for their beliefs do outperform those that don’t; both financially and in longevity. If you wish to stay differentiated, relevant and build strong consumer advocacy, brand strategy cannot be confused with tactics. The brand narrative is independent of incumbent leadership, competitor tactics or flavour of the season; it has to become the DNA of the organization and be communicated as such in every action. In 2010, my Fulbright fellowship study was on the future global potential of electric vehicles and I had the opportunity to interview Tesla. They were not as big then; they were not the ‘talk of the industry’. But were they clear about their overall vision even then, of what their brand would stand for and how long it would take to get there? Hell, yes! And they are staying the course even now when the spotlight is completely trained on them with lots of ‘advice’ being thrown their way. Today, with the hurdles in auto marketing, it is increasingly difficult to differentiate between many auto brands out there. What do they stand for?

Time to banish some category myths

There are always some category specific realities that need to be respected. However, with the challenges in auto industry, we do need to get beyond brand communication with steel-glass cityscapes/business suits or happy large families/dogs; always with mileage-price supers thrown in for good measure! There is a certain laziness in communication with a rampant use of ‘best practices’ of other brands. A few years back, there was a subtle shift in the buying decision drivers; away from just price and operating cost towards design and ‘personal space’ technology. Few brands rode the wave, while most played catch- up. There is a shift taking place again in the industry. There is a redefinition of what is personal mobility and how it is ‘owned’. Brand loyalty in the traditional sense will be severely tested by increasing commodification. Are most auto marketers really leading the conversation? Auto marketers will have to participate in the mobility ecosystems developing due to changing consumer behaviour and technology advances as they grapple with the challenges in automobile marketing.

Multichannel campaign strategy

The auto industry undoubtedly has a greater understanding of the need to optimise a creative for a particular medium rather than one size fits all. However; there is still a fair use of jargon and internal structures are too complex whether in the use of digital, mobile or now augmented reality, virtual reality, bots and artificial intelligence. There needs to be a more in-depth understanding of the interplay between digital-mobile-conventional media-new technology as mediums with a clear focus on real v/s notional return on investment (ROI) by creative; by medium. This is one of the key marketing missteps in auto industry. The customer needs to move back to the centre of why a marketing activity is being undertaken. What is the actual brand challenge that one is solving for with reference to the customer rather than what is the latest trend and how a brand should be perceived as ‘with-it’! Time to manage by tangible results, not ego metrics; there is still far too much wastage in marketing spends amid the hurdles in auto marketing.

Using data with intelligence

Undoubtedly, the pressure on budgets will drive a focus on marketing automation, conversion rate optimisation and better use of re-targeting and programmatic. The increase of real-time data and its sheer volume will drive the use of big data analytics for consumer insights, market insights and overall prediction. There also needs to be a better use of content marketing whether via communities or through influencer outreach; the idea being to build experiences not just campaigns. The principle is the same no matter the point in time or the increased complexity. It is always about relevance, belonging and communicating authentically. The brands that focus on building interactions that are meaningful will see success despite the challenges in automobile marketing.

(This article first appeared in the Economic Times Brand Equity on 20 December 2017)


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