Special bRIEFING: Adding an automotive brand to your client list in 2017

Apple plans two to five years ahead in terms of product launches, but this ranks as relatively short term when compared to the automotive sector. Ford’s Global Market Research Director told us earlier this year that she‘s looking 10-15 years into the future to make new features commercially available before consumers realize they want them. But what if you’re looking to win work with car brands a little sooner?

This briefing examines our recent conversations with senior marketers at America’s leading car brands to identify some hot trends and tips for agency new business teams to build into outreach to the sector.


Ditching demographic segmentation

Yes, you probably need to earn over a certain threshold to be in the market for a Porsche, but even luxury car brands tell us demographic segmentation is too blunt a tool for their purposes. Cadillac is currently working to “de-segment and converge” its customer information, to create a clearer psychographic picture of its audience.

Brands now want to accurately deliver specific messages to micro-segments. Subaru’s National Advertising Manager for instance is looking to pinpoint and engage audiences whose interests and lifestyles align with their sweet spot: outdoorsy, dog-owning young families. Apparently, 50% of their customers have a canine family member. VW’s Advertising Manager meanwhile is looking to leverage the heritage of its Beetle and Camper models among audiences that see reliability as a priority and Mini’s comms team needs to get the word to families that despite being owned by BMW, their vehicles are still affordable.

The huge strides in marketing automation made in recent years mean these brands also have a clearer picture than ever before of behavioural activity and the mechanisms to act on this - something Honda’s Interactive Marketing Manager flagged as an area for investment moving into 2017.

Many challenger brands are more aggressive in their rejection of old targeting models. Zero Motorcycles’ VP Global Sales, Marketing & After-Sales for instance told us “demographics have no say" when it comes to marketing in the motorcycle sector - enthusiasts come in all ages and backgrounds.


Entering the subconscious

If you detect the faint sound of car wheels on asphalt somewhere in your subconscious, perhaps the marketing teams at Ford and Nissan are succeeding. Both of them have spoken to us at length in the last month about their determination to increase their influence over the subconscious decisions car-buyers make throughout the path to purchase.

For Nissan, this means engaging with its audience when they are kicking back on a Sunday afternoon watching NFL and collegiate sports. According to their Senior Manager - Lifestyle Marketing, Auto Shows & Motor Sports this provides the optimum moment to embed the brand into a consumer’s subconscious and ensure Nissan is the first brand to spring to mind when they look to purchase a car in future. The "earlier in the purchase funnel the better”.

Ford’s Global Market Research Director feels that the battle for hearts and minds will be won online and is looking devise new methodologies to pick up on early emotional reactions to its online advertising when it promotes new products and innovations.

Elsewhere, Jaguar Land Rover’s Product Communications Manager is taking a leaf out of the shopper marketing handbook and wants to get under the skin of consumers at the point when they are ready to make a decision. Contrary to the commonly held wisdom that luxury brands need to be influencing future customers as early as possible, Jaguar has concluded that its customers tend to choose their preferred luxury auto brand only once they can afford it.

Ford wants to optimise its impact at the point of purchase and thinks VR could be a useful tool when it comes to understanding consumer preferences. How do store layout, car arrangement and service impact on the final purchase decision?


Motown gears up to take on Silicon Valley

Few cars are more visually iconic than the Cadillac – but this has become something of an albatross for the brand in recent years. It is now aiming to grow awareness of its technological innovation rather than simply relying on its looks.

In terms of targeting, this presents a practical challenge according to the brand’s Manager, Global Market Insights. Its customer data is highly-defined into silos of information based on age range, but an interest in technology – and clean energy in particular – has little correlation with age. Again, this is a huge opportunity for shops who can help automotive marketers make sense of this new reality when it comes to customer data.

Another American classic looking to appeal to tech-savvy audiences is Winnebago. According to its PR Manager, one story the brand is looking to tell is that its vehicles are “an office, anywhere”. Unlike Cadillac, it does feel there’s a correlation with younger audiences here and as a result is looking to scale up social content and partner with college football to put “the Winnebago lifestyle” on the radar with millennials.

Elsewhere, Chevrolet’s Senior Manager – Digital, CRM & Social Media is in the process of upgrading its mobile and tablet presence, as the brand needs to ensure it is leading the way in the platforms that represent the point mainstream consumer technology is at.

As self-driving cars edge closer and revolution in the automotive sector powered by IoT technology looms, two brands we’ve spoken to this year encapsulate the bloody competition to come – Tesla and Lexus. In 2017, Tesla’s Global Partnerships & Programs Lead told us it wants to establish its consumer car brand and shake off perceptions that it’s a technology start-up. Lexus’ Comms Manager, on the other hand, feels that Apple and Google's early steps into the industry represent a bigger future challenge even than other car brands, due to the fact that they are far more experienced in marketing technology.


Prospecting inspiration

As car marketers raise the bar on customer profiling and segmentation methods, what they look for in trusted agency advisors is also changing. Several brands even went so far as to tell us that agencies need to forget about mentioning automotive sector expertise – in many instances, this will not set you apart.

Instead, they are seeking experts on a particular psychographic segments – technophiles, environmentalists, animal lovers or health conscious individuals, for instance. Ford emphasized the importance of really narrowing down your specialism – it works with around ten research specialists alone, who each focus on a particular area, such as cognitive psychology, quantitative tracking and product research. Volkswagen, on the other hand, wants to see agencies that can advise on all audiences, but provide specific insight on how its message should be tailored to each one.

In terms of timescales, it’s worth noting that there are already 20 automotive brands in our review diary requiring actions before the end of the year. Channeling some of your resources into a tailored thought leadership piece to the sector, articulating your specific expertise, stands to be both timely and effective.