Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Can communications save the auto industry?

By Lia Cattassini, Strategy Director, Tribal Worldwide

The automotive industry is braking to a halt. Younger consumers are not buying cars at the same rate as their parents. Car ownership isn’t high on their priority list, they tend to get their driver’s licence a lot later and they have less disposable income to invest.

In the past, a car was a source of pride, a rite-of-passage from childhood to adulthood, and a symbol of freedom and independence. Now, with more ways to get around, car ownership is not as meaningful as it once was.

Innovative communication solutions and different ways of purchasing, like ecommerce, have helped to make the car buying process easier. However, for communicators, building meaningful connections with younger generations is still a challenge.

So, how can communications help overhaul the industry’s old-fashioned ways?

Have the conversation in the driver’s seat

Digital channels are clearly an integral part of the communications engine. But it’s often treated the same way as offline comms, where there’s no interaction with the audience.

Social channels give us a unique possibility to directly communicate with consumers, building dialogue and understanding what people want and expect from the products and from the industry as a whole. The right content opens the opportunity to receive instant feedback from potential customers that can be used not only to build more effective comms but also to rethink products and create new business models.

Working for the automotive industry for many years, I’ve seen the conversations and expectations evolve. Now, people are more interested in the brand philosophy and values. Having a good product is not enough for a generation that is making more conscious choices and demanding brands to stand up for social and environmental issues. By replacing product content with brand content, we are more likely to engage a broader audience, some of whom aren’t looking to buy a car – but can still become a brand admirer.

Social media won’t single-handedly save car brands – but it’s a necessity to engage with future audiences. Put the brand at the forefront of social strategy, listen to what people have to say, and look forward to the long-term payoff. 

Overtake the business model, and talk to young customers

Like building brand awareness and value, talking to young people is a slow and long journey. Most of them will not be buying cars now, but they may do in the future. However, the way they buy cars is changing.  

Subscription models are gaining traction, but it’s still not as flexible as some younger drivers would like. This is the generation used to hailing rides and using apps to bring a car right to their doorstep.

The current business model is not travelling at the same speed as the customer, and digital solutions have to try and bridge the gap between the customer and the industry. 

However, without changing the business model, building in more transparency and flexibility in communications will be essential to attract an audience that still sees car ownership as a headache.

Rethink the car purchase journey

As much as the digital solutions have changed the way people buy cars, the purchase journey still follows the same three steps: configure a car online, book a test-drive and visit a dealership. 

5 out of 10 car buyers will say that buying a car is a hassle, they feel overwhelmed with information and will rely on the dealer to get more clarity over things. But going to a dealership is only the final part of the journey, if the brand is not providing the right information, at the right time, and in the right manner, it loses the chance of the customer getting to the final step.

With ecommerce becoming more common for the automotive industry, we also have to rethink the customer experience, building solutions that are more flexible, uncomplicated and (even) fun.

Ultimately, building an excellent customer experience is fundamental for the future of the automotive industry, even more for a generation already used to doing everything online. Communications can be a powerful tool to modernise the industry and, even if it can’t save it alone, comms can take a lead role in shifting the car buying experience overall.