When it comes to connected cars, brands need to learn to let go
A view from Peter Knapp

When it comes to connected cars, brands need to learn to let go

Smart brands will recognise when their tech partners are better equipped to "host" parts of the transport experience of tomorrow, writes Landor's global creative officer.

Mobile World Congress – which returned to Barcelona last week – seems to be having an identity crisis. First conceived in 1987, when mobile had started to hint at the sort of wide-scale impact and influence it would eventually have in our lives, the event today serves as a platform for companies and developers alike to tout tech advancements across the spectrum.

Every year new industries jostle for breathing space and this year was no different. Nestled amongst the smartphone brands were car companies like Ford and Peugeot, indicating that automotive players were making good on their promise to become tech companies that make cars, not the other way round.

It’s undeniable that the most traditionally "mobile" industry has a lot to gain by integrating the latest technologies into their business processes and cars. Announcements this year included the "Robocar", a self-driving electric car powered by artificial intelligence.

Impressive though that is, it’s unlikely this combination of technology will be of any immediate use to the major automotive brands. Rather, it was announcements from the likes of Nokia, with its connected rental service, that offered us a glimpse of the near-future of transport.

But what does this connectivity mean from a branding perspective? Many automotive companies have already tried to reposition themselves as tech first, cars second in an attempt to push back against Silicon Valley residents such as Google and Tesla, and retain full control of the technological direction of their products.

Whilst it’s imperative for auto companies to maintain pace with tech start-ups, it’s crucial they don’t end up limiting their opportunities to innovate. The mistake brands often make when looking at integrating another company’s capabilities into their own products is to assume that two brands together means a natural dilution of brand engagement.

Instead of thinking about integration as ceding brand control, think instead of who is best placed to host the customer experience. Consider an inflight meal – would you prefer for it to be catered by The Ritz, or to be served the carrier’s own-brand fare?

While The Ritz may be unrealistic, seeing such collaboration in practice is not. Just this year British Airways rolled out their new "M&S on board" menu, offering consumers the chance to snack on recognisable and quality British food on short-haul flights.

Apply this thinking to the automotive industry; it’s clear consumers may prefer a car to have the German engineering they have always favoured, but with Google Assistant providing the directions, or Nokia’s connected rental service DJ-ing their holiday road trip.

Framing tech integration in these terms means companies will be encouraged to think of brand control in terms of most qualified to "host" specific elements of the customer journey. You’re not relinquishing any control over your brand, but rather intelligently responding to your customer’s preferences in a way which will likely positively impact your brand and enhance, not dilute, engagement and future loyalty.

Peter Knapp is global creative officer at Landor