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Automotive product launches in the digital era

September 21, 2020

What was once a mega, multi-city event that invited consumers to engage with a product, now has moved to the realm of digital, with new paradigms of customer engagement and interaction.

The annual events of leading technology giants such as Apple WWDC, Salesforce Dreamforce, and Dell World have all gone digital this year, aligning with consumer expectations and sentiments of ‘staying touchless’ and social distancing. Digital engagements are clearly here to stay – a recent report by the Capgemini Research Institute found that 62% of consumers expect to increase their use of touchless technologies even post crisis.

Driving in digital

Nowhere is this truer than in the auto sector, where auto shows and glamorous launch events were the norm. In a move to continue engaging buyers despite the various challenges, OEMs look towards promoting new vehicles through online launches. The advantages of such a move actually seem to outweigh live launches by ensuring a much wider reach and better cost optimization. However, because the segment is one in which the touch/ feel/ drive is an important component to close a sale, offline events cannot be completely ruled out. A hybrid of digital and virtual experiences may be the road ahead.

For example, Maruti Suzuki India’s new launch, the S-Cross Petrol version, was launched recently with press advertisements in the leading daily. The print ad was digitally enabled, so a customer using Google lens could watch the vehicle come live. Customers could also scan a QR code on the ad for a 3D augmented reality experience of the car. Customers had the option to try out various colors and features, to try out customizable options and experiences.

What to know moving ahead

Given that online launches may be the norm to come, or definitely stay in tandem with offline launches, here are a few activities that brands can take cognizance of to stay relevant with the consumer and position the brand well:

  • Photoshoots – Brands such as Nike have used images shot under lockdown, over video calls for its sneaker collaboration with Jerry Lorenzo. Automakers can plan similar shoots of the product highlighting the features and various angles to showcase on digital platforms.
  • Vehicle unveiling – Few companies have taken the leap to host virtual auto shows, while others have executed virtual unveiling events. OEMs can use social media platforms such as Facebook or Instagram events or stories to engage customers or use collaboration platforms such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom for interacting with influencers, active community members, and media.
  • Offline media drives – Brands can facilitate offline media drives, by reaching out to influencers or journalists in small cohorts while ensuring sanitary compliances. While media engagement, QnAs, and PR-related discussions can be conducted using digital collaboration software.
  • Trainings and workshops – The success of any new methodologies need the buy in of staff and employees. Investing in the right e-learning platform or creating a series of micro e-learning modules/videos can employees understand and take part in the launches effectively. With eased restrictions, companies can also follow the train-the-trainer model, where training experts are coached virtually and then go about imparting knowledge in the offline setup – with fewer attendees and social distancing norms. Moreover, OEMs can consider investing in 3D technical illustrations or 3D animations for breaking the complex information flows into no-brainer step-by-step processes.
  • Online engagement – To augment online sales, a mix of social media and technologies such as AR/VR can be used to provide an immersive and personalized experiences. Customers can analyze the design, features, and functions closely, most importantly, at their own pace and place.
  • City-wise launches – Phygital events that span across physical and digital spaces work best in regional launches. Geo-targeted digital customized banner ads can be used to target regional audiences. Targeted hyper-local events, maybe with regional influencers, can draw local audiences.
  • Test drives and automobile bookings – Technology plays a big part in bringing test drives virtually. AR/VR-based immersive experiences that allow a customer to experience the true potential of a vehicle as opposed to a short road drive can be a huge selling point. To complement and complete the selling experience, offline test-drives with maximum safety and minimum physical interaction can be arranged.

Scaling for success

The key to a successful digital product launch is to effectively integrate existing offline capabilities with technologies that help OEMs meet the changing consumer expectations and thus stay relevant.

A phygital approach is best suited wherein a company can design the product launch strategy using a host of digital technologies which do not just replace physical activities, but augment them. Hence, it is important to start by assessing the digital readiness and maturity. This will underpin the new launch strategy, and help craft effective and customized pre, present and post-launch activities; while also leaving room for personalization. Being digital-first and data-driven, the implementation of phygital will help deliver on successful launch strategy and measure relevant metrics across all stages.

Given that the road ahead in the foreseeable future is primarily online, digital launches are here to stay.

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Farhan Shaikh


Capgemini Invent