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Combining digital engagement with physical touch points

Santosh Iyer | Updated on February 27, 2020

Arriving at the right balance will help carmakers strike a chord with buyers

Technology is reshaping the landscape of our lives.

The way we live, work, transact, communicate, shop and eat has been drastically rebooted by the smart ecosystem. Likewise, the way we buy cars has also evolved dramatically over the last few years.

Buying and, indeed, the car ownership experience today, is no longer just a physical process. Digitilisation has completely revolutionised the way buyers/owners interact with auto manufacturers.

This was more than evident at the recently concluded Delhi Auto Expo, where carmakers, regardless of the category their products belonged, highlighted the technology proposition of ownership. This wasn’t just limited to connected tech built into the cars but also in the way consumers experienced the brand.

From an OEM perspective, auto shows globally are positioned as highly visible platforms for launching new products, showcasing the latest concept vehicles and technologies, and also to share the brand’s vision and strategies with media and consumers. The enthusiastic crowd and long queues at the Delhi Auto Expo made one wonder, albeit momentarily, if the economy was actually in the midst of a serious downturn. But is the traffic recorded at the pavilions good enough to justify investments in such shows?

What makes this question even more relevant is that these are brand-building events and do not double up as sales platforms, like the Bangkok Motor Show. The answer to this complex query lies in leveraging such brand building shows by combining a deep digital engagement with physical touch points.

‘Physi-digital’ approach

‘Physi-digital’ is the new avenue that encourages digital penetration through physical brand showcases like the Auto Expo. A luxury brand like ours devised a novel way of maximising our presence at the motor show: the use of traditional social channels to engage the fan of the brand effectively by creating conversations around it.

We also used the physical motor show in Delhi to activate discussions on ‘Startup Autobahn’, a flagship initiative of Mercedes-Benz to interact with, and use the knowledge and knowhow of, start-ups to solve specific issue. As part of this ‘physi-digital’ approach we used hackathons to engage with passionate teams of youngsters from top engineering and management colleges.

We see that the physi-digital experience is quickly emerging as a unique part of the customer journey, and an auto show can be a key element in triggering that brand journey. This is indicative of a broader trend that is only set to accelerate as buyers expect and demand a more immersive, technology-rich experience.

Unlike previous generations of car owners, who are content growing up with posters of cars on their walls, the emerging generation of buyers aspire for technology and gadgets. As a result, the technology proposition of a brand is becoming just as much of a purchase determinant as engine configuration, horsepower and fuel efficiency.

As a result, to stay relevant and engage with this generation of car buyers, companies are adopting ever more innovative engagement strategies. At the Delhi Auto Expo, for instance, OEMs set up digital kiosks through which customers could buy products. They offered guests visiting pavilions a digital, x-ray look at EVs. Yet, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Companies are working on digitising their customer experience. This overhaul of the customer experience is being carried out by brands across the automotive space.

Brand interaction

Customers today expect to be able to interact with brands anytime they want and to be able to do this on their own terms. That’s the flexibility of being connected all the time and anywhere. OEMs, in turn, want to make the process of buying a car as easy as buying a book, not just via digital touchpoints, but through an all-encompassing, multi-pronged approach inclusive of all technology platforms.

Even the experience of walking into a dealership is undergoing a sea change with the creation of new ambiences for different categories of cars. The idea is to heighten the sense of engagement a customer feels when ‘interacting’ with a car.

For instance, the way he/she would experience an SUV is markedly different from sportier models. Additionally, artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality as well as embedded screens help in the purchase decision becoming more relevant and transparent. The digital world will become even more closely intertwined with the customer journey. The brand that can harness this technology most creatively through the creation of a seamless integrated customer journey will win the day. This will mean giving car buyers and owners all the information they need digitally even while enriching their experience with products in the physical world.

(The writer is Vice-President, Sales & Marketing, Mercedes Benz India)

Published on February 27, 2020

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