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3 Ways Automotive Brands Can Activate Consumers’ Content

In 2016, automotive sales reached a new record, as consumers purchased 17.55 million cars and trucks in the United States, up from 17.5 million in the previous year. The increase in sales outpaced most industry projections, and represented the seventh consecutive year of growth for automakers. What will 2017 look like? According to the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), sales this year are projected to dip slightly to 17.1 million. Steven Szakaly, chief economist at NADA, said in November, “We are headed toward a stable market for U.S. auto sales, not a growing market. The industry has achieved record sales, and pent-up demand is effectively spent.”

For an increasingly complex automotive market, this stability, perhaps surprisingly, coincides with a tremendous upheaval in technology and shifting consumer preferences. Brands within the space should look at the next year as an opportunity to adjust their efforts, and create more authentic and meaningful relationships with their consumers. If “pent up demand” is truly spent, automakers must find ways to engage their customers beyond the point of purchase, to inspire loyalty and upsell potential.

Today, brands in the auto industry are turning to their own consumers to help co-create more impactful experiences. Specifically, they are tapping into social networks like Instagram, where more than 500 million users create over 95 million daily images and videos. It’s no surprise that many of these photos are tagged to auto-related content, as a large portion of consumers are passionate about showing off their modes of transportation. A quick hashtag search on Instagram alone returns the following results:

  • #car – 33.6 million posts
  • #auto – 4.8 million posts
  • #truck – 4.1 million posts
  • #carsofinstagram – 3.6 million posts

So, what can automotive brands do with this user-generated, or “earned,” content? Here are three distinct ways that consumer photos can help drive engagement and ultimately revenue.

Personalize Experiences for Unique Consumer Lifestyles

Today’s automotive brands aren’t simply competing against one another for potential customers, but instead, are competing against modern forms of transportation. As more of the population continues to move to urban areas (although some data suggests that trend may be softening), people are utilizing public transportation more frequently. Additionally, ridesharing apps such as Uber and Lyft offer a sustainable option for consumers looking to avoid costly car insurance and parking headaches. For car brands to stand out, they need to do more than focus on utility. Rather, they must showcase how their product can fit into consumers’ existing lifestyles. Whether the consumer wants a family-friendly vehicle that still feels “hip,” or a rugged vehicle to match his or her adventurous lifestyle, brands must organically connect to emotions, mindsets, and utility. Automotive marketers can gain a deeper understanding of their audiences by analyzing earned content. Ford Motor Company is a great example of a brand that has invested in its digital audiences, moving from a model “primarily of media relations” to one “primarily of storytelling,” according to Mark Truby, vice president of European communications at Ford. In 2013, the brand kicked off Social Media Week in New York by announcing a reboot of its “Fiesta Movement” campaign, giving away 100 Ford Fiesta cars to social influencers for six months, asking them to create content to document their experiences. The original campaign launched in 2009, when sophisticated social marketing was still a fairly nascent practice. Recently, the brand went a step further, recognizing the potential impact of everyday consumers. According to AutoGuide.com, the brand filed a patent for a versatile camera mount compatible with GoPro devices, so that users can create content across their varied experiences. On Instagram already, there are over 12 million assets tagged #Ford, so there appears to be a huge opportunity for the brand to do even more in activating its audience.

Honda is another example of a brand that successfully taps into consumers’ lifestyles to drive content creation. In 2015, Honda teamed up with National Geographic, asking fans to create photos during their world travels, utilizing #WanderlustContest. To date, the hashtag has amassed over 57,000 pieces of content, building a source of lifestyle imagery as well as an implied connection with the brand.

 

Act as Connective Tissue for Automotive Campaigns

The automotive industry is inherently fragmented, defined by a hierarchy of organizations including original equipment manufacturers, regional dealership groups, resellers, and aftermarket parts companies. Typically, at the brand level, broad marketing campaigns will generate interest in specific car and truck models, but very little is done to help support regional or individual dealer efforts. Brands need a way to connect this disparate messaging across all channels and touchpoints, and earned content offers a scalable way to acquire necessary high-quality, personalized content. When campaigns are executed properly, fans can tag images not only to the manufacturer, but to individual dealer locations. This makes generating content for community events and post-purchase engagement more seamless for marketers at these organizations.

Educate Consumers On Benefits of Care and Customization

Historically, auto brands have been focused on driving prospective consumers through to a point of purchase. Massive advertising spend is placed in traditional channels to bring awareness to specific auto makes and models, as well as seasonal offers and messaging. In recent years, brands have recognized the opportunity to engage consumers past the point of purchase, to grow revenue associated with aftermarket upgrades, service, and general car care. Social consumers are largely aspirational, meaning they look to platforms like Instagram not only to share their existing lifestyle, but to gain inspiration for what they want their future-state to look like. This is where a luxury brand, like Ferrari, could tap into its existing community to create a sense of exclusivity, and generate content that converts prospective new buyers. Currently, Ferrari has 1.7 million followers on Instagram, and boasts over 9 million assets tagged #ferrari.

There are a number of other factors that will play into growth and development of the auto sector in 2017 and beyond, such as driverless cars, manufacturing regulations, and artificial intelligence. How will your brand adapt, and tap into its existing audience to gain a better understanding of consumer preferences?

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