Driving to the digital future

The internet has changed the way we search for information when looking to buy a new car, write David Stradling, head of automotive, and Ines Nadal, head of trends & futures, Ipsos Mori.

Driving to the digital future

Not so long ago you would probably start your search for your perfect car (or one that your budget allowed) by asking friends and family, as well as buying some car magazines and looking at reviews before visiting your local dealership.

Now you would be more likely to turn on your computer and open your internet browser. According to Capgemini, 94% of those shopping for a new car do some research online before buying.

Buying a car is a big decision and people are looking to get as much information as possible, especially from other consumers.

When searching for information online, potential buyers will most often look for reviews and recommendations, often engaging in conversations with other consumers. Unsurprisingly, a large part of these conversations take place in specialised forums like Pistonheads, where questions are answered quickly by many different people. Although it allows for less ‘deep’ conversations, Twitter is also popular among purchase intenders. 

According to Brandwatch 31% of all the auto mentions online come from Twitter, vs. 38% from forums. Auto brands’ Facebook pages and YouTube channels are proving to be a good source of information too, especially when it comes to visualising the products.

Compared to other industries, the automotive sector, which has traditionally relied on direct advertising, has somewhat lagged behind in embracing social media. However, in the current climate it is more important than ever to reach and engage potential buyers and be where they are.

In the past couple of years we have seen an increasing number of auto manufacturers turning to Facebook, Twitter and even experimenting with Pinterest or Instagram to capitalise upon this new social media-ness of car buying and take part in the automotive online conversation.

Ford was one of the pioneers of this social media shift. Three years ago - a very long time in the social media universe - it launched the new Fiesta by placing Fiestas in the hands of  100 ‘agents’ in exchange for six months of social media content. 

With this ‘Fiesta Movement’ campaign, Ford wanted to generate buzz among the 70 million millennials who pass their driving test every year in the US and ‘live’ on social networks.  The campaign got over four million YouTube views , more than three million Twitter impressions, and more importantly, 50,000 people expressing an interest in the Fiesta, 97% of whom didn’t own a Ford at the time of the campaign. 

As Ford’s head of social media Scott Monty said, it also helped to present Ford as a company that ‘gets it’ when it comes to social media - meaning that it is comfortable with others telling its story and letting go of control.

Since then we have seen other great examples of auto brands experimenting with engaging and creative social media marketing. Social media can be a powerful tool for storytelling, as opposed to just showcasing the cars, as we have seen in Renault’s latest campaign in the Netherlands, tapping into people’s emotions, with the story of a classic Renault 4 owned by the fictional character Grandma Hilda.

The key to the car was said to be somewhere in her house and fans were invited to see if they could find it, to win a car. 

Auto manufacturers are not just limiting themselves to Facebook and Twitter. One of the key trends in social media marketing is visual content and brands have started to experiment with new platforms, such as Pinterest or Instagram, to tap into this trend and reach new audiences. For example, Volvo’s #JoyRide asked users to describe their ideal road trip, looking to present Volvo as a lifestyle brand and reach women, who represent 80% of all Pinterest users.

This all sounds great, but one could argue that it’s not necessarily helping to sell more cars. There remains a distance between an automotive brand and point of purchase for the consumer.

Dealers seem to be the missing piece to engage people to actually buy the cars. How can brands get dealers to use social media properly to attract the potential buyer?

Autotrader’s app on Facebook is a very clever approach to engage fans who are in the market for a car, rendering buying more social. Consumers using the app while logged into Facebook can search for vehicles by style, make, model and price range, being able to tell their Facebook friends which cars they want. Audi has also used the power of digital to become the first brand to open a digital showroom, which uses digital presentations to showcase the car, rather than displaying actual cars.

There is no doubt that digital will be heavily involved in shaping the future of the automotive industry.  We will be seeing more and more innovations, not only around marketing or point of sale, but also around the vehicle itself.

Connected cars, with features like internet-enabled navigation, vehicle-to-vehicle communications that could help cars to detect the presence of other vehicles or apps on the dashboard will be a reality in a not-so distant future.

Digital offers manufacturers a great opportunity to drive the wheels of tomorrow and excite consumers - we can’t wait to what is to come.

David Stradling, head of automotive, and Ines Nadal, head of trends & futures, Ipsos Mori