Nevermind RPM. Automotive buyers are looking for ”experiences per mile”—and content marketing will play an integral role

Let me get ahead of myself here: this is not another article on best practices for pre-purchase marketing in the automotive industry.

That’s because, while pre-purchase marketing remains as important as ever, the automotive industry stands to benefit from auto players zooming out—looking at how to connect with and create value for consumers not only before they drive the car off the lot, but long after.

I’ve been thinking about this ever since Harman and SBD Automotive launched the Experiences Per Mile (EPM) Advisory Council. Dedicated to improving the in-car experience for drivers, the council focuses on how “intelligent technology and recent consumer trends are reshaping the experience inside the vehicle, and what this will mean for automakers and consumers alike.”

Naturally, my mind goes to how shifting from revolutions per minute (RPM) to experiences per mile opens up immense marketing opportunities—particularly for those already focused on providing valuable content to their customers. As automotive players (from suppliers to shared mobility companies, manufacturers to dealerships) redefine connected vehicle experiences, content is poised to play a huge role in entertaining, informing, and delighting drivers who have come to expect more from their vehicles than decent gas mileage.

(And as we’ve seen with the recent supply chain issues plaguing the industry, sharp and regular communications may be the difference between a disgruntled consumer and a satisfied one—but more on that challenge another time.)

Setting the stage for post-purchase experiences

The journey of purchasing a vehicle typically lasts 5–12 weeks and involves multiple channels, devices, and touchpoints before a customer makes a final choice. Digital channels are of particular importance: 92 percent of car buyers research online before purchase, with most spending an average of 14 hours online during their search.

Given that only one in three purchasers have a strong idea of the car make and model they want before starting on this journey, manufacturers and dealers need to innovate to stand out from their competitors—and this involves creating strong messaging across channels and platforms. A 2018 Google/Ipsos study found that more than 75 percent of auto shoppers were influenced by online video content (a sharp increase from 6 percent in 2015). And on average, 71 percent of buyers use mobile at some point during the purchase process, highlighting the importance of delivering omnichannel marketing experiences and communications to convert prospective buyers.

More recently, virtual reality showrooms have allowed prospective buyers to test drive cars, as well as project vehicles into real-world environments—say, their own garage or driveway—prior to purchase. A quick look at search trends also validates that buyers are keen to use technology to experience their vehicles from the comfort of home; the term “test drive” is searched for around 221,000 times per month on YouTube. Prospective buyers have also taken advantage of the ability to virtually customize their potential vehicles.

The takeaway here is that online experiences are becoming more personalized and connected pre-purchase, allowing automakers to track qualified buyers’ interests throughout the customer journey—and serve the right content at the right time accordingly. The interesting part will be how this data can inform drivers’ experiences per mile. We know that experiential, value-first marketing plays a key role across channels in how consumers find a perfect car—how can content play a bigger role in how they experience driving it?

Rethinking the post-purchase experience

Consumers have come to expect a certain level of mechanical performance, and are no longer wowed by RPM. Now, manufacturers must focus not on what’s inside the engine, but on how the car provides an overall experience to the driver. In order to provide such experiences, there needs to be a high degree of customization—as Harman’s report puts it, cars need to leverage technology to deliver “hyper-individualized” experiences.

And from where I’m standing, content and messaging are set to play an important role.

Sure, not all drivers will be up to speed on the latest tech enablers. With 5G telematics, AI, over-the-air updates, and CASE trends all informing advancements in the automotive space, some buyers may feel daunted by the breadth of in-car services offered to them rather than delighted. But that’s where content and a CX mindset come into play.

“The future of mobility lies in redefining what ‘moves consumers’ emotionally instead of exclusively on what services and features are offered.”—The Experiences Per Mile (EPM) Advisory Council

Depending on the age, ability, and tech-savviness of drivers, in-car consoles and accompanying apps can be customized to the comprehension levels of its users. “Old school” assets—manuals and guides—can be accompanied by intelligent virtual assistants, guiding drivers to feel at ease with higher levels of in-car connectivity. The goal here is not to be flashy—it’s to provide experiences that are so pleasant and so seamless that drivers hardly notice their needs are being met by technology in real-time.

Safety and usability are also main benefits. Say, for instance, you’re running low on transmission fluid. Using connected data streams, your car should be able to notify you of this both within the in-car console and via your preferred communication method (email or a text message alert). Not only that, but based on your driving habits, it would be able to intuit your nearest preferred gas station or auto parts store, and suggest a convenient spot along your regular commute. It could even prompt you with videos or instruction manuals for how to safely verify the transmission levels on the dipstick and ensure a smooth refill—a perk for new drivers or those lacking mechanical confidence—or allow you to order the fluid directly to your home. It may even play your favorite Spotify playlist while you’re at it.

Data, technology, and content are becoming increasingly intertwined, laddering up to in-car experiences that contribute to greater safety, ease of use, and convenience. Technology bolsters and informs personalized experiences; content and custom messaging help ensure consumers the tech is properly meeting their needs in a seamless manner. Together, they provide experiences that answer directly to the driver’s lifestyle and desires.

At Quietly, we’re used to blending multiple data sources to provide the exact answer, asset, or experience someone is after. I can’t wait to work with our partners in the automotive industry to create EPM that can turn even the worst gridlock traffic into memorable, connected experiences.

Photo: Dan Asaki/Unsplash

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