In a tough new-vehicle sales environment, when you are not building cars, you should be building stronger post-purchase relationships. Strengthening ties with current owners offers a powerful brand-growth opportunity now, and will pay further dividends when the frozen credit market thaws and consumer dollars come off the sidelines.
Not surprisingly, owners are rapidly increasing their total time and money commitment to their current vehicles. Forgoing major new investments, they are taking great care of what’s in the driveway today. In essence, they are caring for your brand. It’s time to return the favor.
As an automaker, you should be taking low-cost steps toward solidifying the bonds with your owners and ensuring that in the future they become a major influence for new brand believers (read: net new customers).
Digital is the proper protocol
In previous posts, we’ve covered how digital innovations are delivering much deeper connections between consumers and their peers, consumers and their vehicles, and consumers and manufacturers.
Wrapping these insights together and taking deliberate actions in 2009 could present an opportunity to leapfrog the competition.
Digital is now the main touchpoint with many owners — from searching Google to find dealership hours to setting up automatic online finance payments. Yet many automakers have overlooked online owner experiences that facilitate everyday driving needs. Many experiences involve outmoded technology and unintuitive user interfaces. Investment in the latest and most widely accepted web technologies will be welcomed by your owners.
Technologies automakers should be considering
As we’ve discussed in detail on this blog, consumer passenger vehicles are evolving to include data as part of the driving experience; mpg, distance traveled, and other metrics. Owners who monitor this data are more likely to modify their driving behavior to improve fuel efficiency and, as a result, reduce vehicle wear and tear.
Personal homepage integration
Online sites such as MyYahoo and iGoogle allow simple content module integration, but owners continue to have to log into password-protected sites for data that could be plucked and placed into their existing online media diet. Imagine seeing current tire pressure, any activated warning lights and oil change reminders directly within a personalized page.
Use current owners to quietly research and reinvent for when mass marketing dollars return. As Chrysler and others are exploring with their owners, user feedback can be the best medicine for what ails you. It can quash non-starters before budgets are wasted or highlight the next big trend in driving habits.
Last year Chrysler launched a new consumer-feedback site, Chrysler Listens, where current owners or prospects could apply to join the automaker’s Customer Advisory Board.
Maintenance and troubleshooting
In a time when an aging vehicle might be the only transportation option, your brand should be one that acts as a champion for care and maintenance. Using all the aforementioned telematics data and intuitive content channels such as personalized pages, your customers could be the best informed drivers on the road. Peace of mind cannot be undervalued in any brand relationship.
Dealerships depend on strong service relationships to survive slower-than-average sales environments and the OEMs have the best data and touchpoints to help ensure this dynamic continues. Combining data about unique driving habits or passion points with the personal service at each owner’s preferred dealership is a powerful model for maintaining profitable customer behavior. Additionally, it must be a simple integration. MyToyota, for example, makes it easy for owners to locate a dealership and schedule a service appointment online.
Mobile phone integration
As an emerging channel for ownership content, data-ready mobile phones represent an ideal channel tying each driver’s needs to the vehicle, dealerships and the OEM. With technology such as Bluetooth and SMS, scheduling a service appointment based on a specific vehicle alert code is entirely possible.
Perks and passions
Whether it’s a seasonal price-off promotion or a unique offer based on specific driving habits, digital data enables a more relevant experience for loyalty tactics. These programs can also be enhanced by teaming owners together and adding a social media layer. Allow them to vote online regarding rewards or to share tips for vehicle care, maintenance and performance. For example, the Mini Owners’ Lounge is well known for online collaboration among fellow members that often spills over into the offline world.
- The hot new car is your old car; Wall Street Journal, 01.14.09
- The untapped power of owner communities; headlightblog.com, 05.23.08
- It’s a talking car; headlightblog.com, 07.26.08
- How automotive marketers should be using social media in a downturn; headlightblog.com, 11.20.08
- The hybrid promise: One owner’s experience; headlightblog.com, 06.15.08
- Chrysler brings consumers into advisory boardroom; MediaPost, 03.24.08
- Dealer locator; Toyota Owners Online
- Owners’ Lounge; Mini USA