Super car

Participation branding is key to the future of auto marketing 

Consumer and creator participation in automotive marketing will reshape the sector, leading to marketing strategies that involve real people. By Matt Rebeiro

The automotive industry is switching gears.

In the last five years, industries across the spectrum have been experiencing dramatic change and the automotive sector is no exception. Thanks to trends like mobility, connectivity, autonomy and sustainability, the industry is ripe for disruption and these clearly indicate that the traditional model of visiting a car dealership, talking to a salesperson, test driving and making a deal is quickly fading.

Today, 90% of car buyers begin their journey online as demonstrated by Google research into online buyer habits. Not surprisingly, automotive businesses are adapting their marketing spend and strategies to these new behaviours and needs. Digital media represents more than half of all category media investment in 2021, overtaking television in 2016, as revealed by warc’s research into global advertising spend in the automotive sector.

Prospective buyers use social media to actively research, crowdsource recommendations and engage with brands and reviews

Looking at the year ahead, the automotive industry is set to revolutionise its products and the way individuals interact with vehicles with disruptive businesses like Google, Netflix and Amazon turning the way we search and discover completely upside down. Take the rapidly evolving consumer expectations and behaviours on ownership for example. The onus has shifted to how we can simplify our lives down to the minor details and make the transition between ownership as smooth as possible. An increasing number of consumers are dismissing highly technical car jargon and complexities in dealing with dealerships, in favour of simpler and more informed buying journeys in addition to ownership models that are tailored to their needs from PCP, HCP, subscriptions, e-hailing, shared ownership etc, all of which has been driven by online research, e-commerce and on-demand offers.

Perhaps the biggest automotive change we will see as a result is a fundamental shift in the product, going from gasoline and diesel to electric vehicles. Importantly, electric vehicles tend to have fewer moving parts than their predecessors’ engines, but on the other hand require highly sophisticated software. This transfer is best described by industry analysts who predicts that the car industry will transition “from complex cars with simple software to simple cars with complex software,” mirroring the behaviours of the consumer and fulfilling their expectations and needs. 

The inevitable shift to social media

Throughout the buying process consumers are turning to more authentic content found on social media to assist their decision making in some way.

Together with search, social media is emerging as a key digital channel within the purchasing funnel of new automotive buyers as recent research from CarGurus found that 71% of UK car buyers confirm that it supports their buying process. Prospective buyers use social media to actively research, crowdsource recommendations and engage with brands and reviews. Interestingly, in the UK YouTube is the most used social-media channel for car-buying purposes; a trend that is also prevalent in US where in the past two years, watch time of “test drive” videos on YouTube has grown by more than 65%.  

Drilling further into this, new buyers are increasingly turning to real everyday people for automotive content. Pixability has identified that creator-produced videos received 93% of monthly views for all auto content on YouTube (vs only 7% SOV associated to Brands content). Further highlighting this point, vlog-style content receives the highest of engagement, compared to commercials and other styles of content.  

With the #TitanAdventure, Nissan invited owners, ambassadors, and influencers on a four-day experience filled with outdoor activities with the Titan pick-up. The content that came out of that created a massive brand reach

The power of ‘realness’

Looking ahead, we can predict consumer and creator participation in automotive marketing will reshape the sector, leading to marketing strategies that involve real people across every stage of the funnel. This approach is called Participation Branding; whereby brands harness the power of real people to deliver influence and advocacy in addition to innovate the experience across the funnel by enabling individuals to actively participate in the buying experience. As part of this approach, tactics like peer-to-peer storytelling, collaborations with creators and user-generated content will have a bigger role in helping brands create a meaningful connections with new and current consumers.  

Social media will be a driving force behind channnelling ‘Participation Branding’ in automotive marketing, with strategies needing to embed ‘realness’ at the core of its storytelling. Prospective automotive buyers will increasingly look for a broader range of social media content beyond staged vehicles video tests, to more genuine narratives where real people and creators interact with the products in real-life situations. This push for more participatory content will be particularly relevant to the next generation of consumers, as highlighted by the fact that 82% of Gen Z say they trust a company more if it uses images of real customers in its advertising.

A great example of such content is the work created by Chevrolet Brazil who in the mid-2015 (well ahead of its time!) connected new car buyers with current owners via WhatsApp. The aim was to build a community, enabling them to ask any questions about the buying and product experience. In addition to realness, social media stories will need to reflect the transition “from complex cars with simple software to simple cars with complex software”. Presumably, this might entail a shift from engineering-led narratives about engines and their powers to more lifestyle anecdotes that describe the software capabilities in real life settings. As part of this shift, marketers should leverage the authenticity that is unlocked by partnerships with automotive micro content creators to co-develop stories that portray software capabilities in more casual and honest life cases. 

 In summary, the automotive marketing leaders of tomorrow are increasingly considering people-powered marketing strategies, creating opportunities for consumers to get involved across the funnel. They need to create content and stories that manifest the increasingly important role that software will have in the driving experience of the future. Players must continue to invest in digital and social media channels, particularly in platforms where ‘video is king’ (e.g. YouTube and Tik Tok). It’s also pivotal to keep embed authenticity at the core of their social media strategies, leveraging the power of people through participation tactics like peer-to-peer marketing or partnerships with content creators. And finally, leaders must innovate across the buying experience, engaging consumers with fresh and easy experiences that unlock participation.

About the author: Matt Rebeiro, isSenior Strategy Director—Future Strategy at Iris Worldwide

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