To date, the automotive industry has been perceived as slow to adapt to the digital revolution. Unwilling to engage strategically, hesitant to make a leap of faith, they look as though they’re falling behind the curve.
In large part this is because the traditional model of print and screen advertising, combined with dealership showrooms, continues to work so well. Relatively few people buy cars online, and this is unlikely to change for the time being.

But there is awareness among thought-leaders in automotive brands that embracing digital technologies, particularly social media, can significantly benefit their bricks ‘n’ mortar outlets, altering their functionality just as it has given new dimensions to clothing shops.

While people may be reluctant to close a car purchase online, they are obviously spending a lot more time doing their research digitally instead of through regular channels. Findings by research giants McKinsey & Co indicate that the average number of showroom visits drivers make before buying have fallen from four to one. Why? Simply because they’re no longer as necessary as they once were. McKinsey also discovered that for buyers of new cars, the digital experience was a key trigger, just behind the actual experience of wandering around the forecourt and taking a test drive.

If the future is digital, and all signs point to Yes, then automotive brands clearly need to focus on building seamless integration between their digital channels and dealerships.

Here are some great examples:


The growth in usage of mobile devices is a huge opportunity for car brands. There is plenty of scope for innovation here: Mercedes are pioneering the concept of letting people take test-drives on their smartphones, while BMW have taken a leaf out of Apple’s book (“borrowed” their idea, basically), and are introducing “geniuses” to showrooms who can help car-owners sync up their devices with their cars, or provide technical specs from a tablet instead of a brochure. Particularly with luxury brands, there is a requirement to make car buying an immersive experience, which is why increased use of technology fits so well.



Why do brands love social media so much? Short of Playboy magazine handing out free hugs, it’s about the best trick there is to establish customer loyalty. It allows for two-way conversation; instant problem-solving; and, of particular relevance to a design-heavy industry such as the automotive, the crowdsourcing of ideas. Nissan smashed it in 2013 with their campaign to promote the Juke, inviting Twitter fans to collaborate on potential designs. In just one month they had over 10 million social impressions. Meanwhile, Hyundai linked up with The Walking Dead and invited their fans to design vehicles that would survive a zombie apocalypse. Did these campaigns directly contribute to more footfalls at dealerships? It’s hard to gauge. But did they whip up a frenzy of excitement for a new car far greater than any traditional print campaign could have? That’s guaranteed.


One of the best examples we can identify of a car brand really using the capabilities of digital is another Japanese manufacturer, Toyota. They’ve worked with Google + to introduce a Hangouts feature that allows salespeople from dealerships to enter online conversations, engaging in real-time communication with buyers or groups of buyers looking for information. It’s a fantastic way to engage with the marketplace, and it means a salesperson can then invite people down to the showroom to continue their chat face-to-face.

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Will we have online-only showrooms one day?
Will all test-drives eventually be taken from the comfort of our living-room sofas?
Will we be able to research, buy and arrange delivery of a vehicle with just a few mouse-clicks, and feel comfortable about doing so?

Only time will tell, but the types of content automotive brands are producing; the multichannel approaches they use to share it; and the techniques they’re employing to better-integrate digital and physical spaces, all indicate they’ve turned the page on how they look at New Retail.


Ernst & Young
McKinsey & Co
Marketing Week