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How Marketing Is Changing – For Good – In the Automobile Industry

In the automotive marketing field, we’ve moved from a position of relative certainty, where business models were well-established and most innovation was incremental, to a sense that almost anything can happen. Business models are being reinvented constantly, and relentless innovation keeps redefining what an automobile can be.

Tesla was where it all started, making the until-then-anaemic option – sustainable electric – the aspirational, high-performance choice. As well as creating the most valuable auto business in the world, Elon Musk set off a tsunami of new thinking across the industry that continues to challenge all the established paradigms.

Premium automotive icons like BMW have shifted their messaging away from engineering and now use a mission statement which refers to becoming providers ‘of premium products and premium services for individual mobility’. Why? To keep their options open. Ford’s European marketing boss, Pete Zillig, believes cars will come to be seen as ‘smartphones on wheels’ with rich entertainment and functional potential. Note how vehicle engineering isn’t necessarily even a focus now.

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And that’s despite the pace of engineering innovation in automotive running on overdrive, with manufacturers competing to improve battery capacity, motor efficiency, and design usability. Sustainability is today’s key theme, but that will change too as the industry collectively decarbonizes, and brands have to find new ways to differentiate. Autonomy is coming to the roads, and Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) is another key trend. Whatever next?

Welcome to a New World of Unlimited Choices

For marketers in the automobile industry, it’s all fantastic news. On the one hand, you have a myriad of opportunities to think in truly creative new ways about product innovation and meeting customer needs. While on the other, you also have a myriad of new routes to market and digital platforms, as well as new tools to manage everything coherently. Indeed, the pace of innovation in the ‘route-to-customer’ industry is – just like the automotive sector – racing ahead.

Moreover, as the automotive industry crosses over into electric, many barriers to entry have come down. Indeed, there are some competitive advantages for new entrants who don’t carry any brand baggage from the fossil fuel world. So, for anyone working in automotive marketing, there is an opportunity to build their new EV brand from scratch, or at least from a cleaner sheet. Granted, as Tesla has experienced, generating demand can be a blessing, but it can be a curse if capital-intensive production lines can’t keep up with consumer interest.

Personalized Experiences Will Be Key

Marketers in the automotive industry can now build brands in a much more personalized way than ever before, tailoring your messages for specific market niches and reaching those audiences directly via digital channels. That will enable you to manufacture and market your products in the most efficient way possible.

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Indeed, today’s auto marketers are able to measure their own success with direct metrics – rather than working through dealerships – and feed those insights back into their product innovation.

So, you can build stronger communications channels to better understand customer needs, tie that into your design processes to improve your products, and then explain your vehicles’ benefits more effectively to the people that will care.

Direct-to-consumer retail is therefore emerging as a major force in the automotive industry, as these new and highly targeted products give people strong reasons to buy besides brand. The competitive battles of the future in the automobile industry will be fought and won based on how effectively your brand can communicate how well it’s meeting its niche audiences’ needs.

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Meanwhile, in the world of vans and trucks, you face greater urgency in reducing emissions.

The path to net zero, and the regulatory framework that’s building up around that, means that businesses are typically having to adopt electric vehicles faster than consumers. This is a great way to start experimenting with targeting potential business customers via channels such as LinkedIn where manufacturers have not traditionally played.

Embrace the Future of Marketing – With True Precision

All of these opportunities are converging right now to enable automotive brands to build truly personalized relationships with their potential customers in the automotive industry. You can build knowledge up about their specific needs and maintain an open dialogue with them. In turn, that will transform their relationship with your brand from its traditional distant, provision-of-glossy-information posture to something much more intimate and valuable.

Building and managing that relationship effectively will call for effective digital tools, enabling you to both diversify your offering while precisely targeting your many audiences.

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