One way to take the temperature of an entire sector’s digital maturity is at a trade show. All the major players turn out to showcase the latest developments and ideas in both their brand and product. Over the course of the next week we’re likely to read and hear about the most recent advancements in the automotive world, as the New York International Auto Show (NYIAS) opens its doors today (April 4th) to an audience of eager press. As a car fanatic and digital geek, I get pretty excited about the future of the automotive industry. It’s not so much things like keyless entry that gets my motor running (although that is awesome) but rather the ways digital is being used in cars to create systems that underpin the actual vehicle, to create a smarter, more optimized driving experience. Most modern cars have up to 100 CPUs (computational devices) on board.
But that’s all in the car. Beyond the vehicles–in marketing, sales and customer services– digital is not being used to create smarter experiences. That’s not to say automotive marketers haven’t adopted digital (quite the opposite is true). The more digitally sophisticated brands have pushed past the basics and seeded vehicle launches online (Ford Fiesta Movement), created digital concierge services (Volkswagen) and even owners’ clubs (Mini). So what is missing? A smarter, integrated and seamless experience all the way from pre-sale through to ownership.
Why is the automotive world getting digital right in the product, but not in the customer experience?
Most automakers are in a period of transition, moving away from models and methods created to serve a 20th century economy and towards the digital era of the 21st century. The first step in this transition was probably bringing a brand site online, but soon after everyone achieved that, a digital arms race began as brands tried to keep up with new developments, content strategies, platforms, distribution methods and more. This arms race has resulted in incremental reforms, rather than holistic transformations, dominating the industry. These iterative developments have moved the industry forward, but the lack of a clear end-goal, of a vivid image of what a digitally-enabled industry should look like, has meant piecemeal rather than revolutionary changes. This incremental approach leaves the industry facing down two key challenges:
- There is a lack of strategic vision for many automotive brand eco-systems. Most are built bit by bit, with little regard for the role each piece should play. The result is confused digital eco-systems that aren’t aligned with consumer or user behaviors. For example, brands sites often push users to dealers without any understanding of whether or not they’re even in-market.
- Digital innovation is stifled by an outdated view of how to measure and quantify success. For digital to play a broader role, and this is an inevitability, what is needed is a new approach to measurement – a paradigm shift in the way performance metrics are imagined, constructed, and utilized.
Transformation requires a two pronged attack: first, determining what roles digital should play (hint: its potential extends beyond getting people to a dealer), and designing a forward-thinking economic model that reflects these objectives (hint #2: it’s not just to find hand-raisers and collect likes).
Brands that align their digital experiences with consumer behavior, and expand its role and objectives beyond lead generation, across the entire journey from prospect to owner, will not only establish credibility for being the first, they’ll also gain some hard earned advantage over their competitors.