Something really cool has happened. Two of my favorite things – the Motor City and technology – have met. And it turns out they not only really like each other, but they’re virtually inseparable these days.
We all know that Detroit’s auto industry was built on technology, but in the last five years or so it’s redefined itself as the new frontier of innovation. Technology is more than what builds the vehicles; it’s now what differentiates and lends prestige to the OEM brands. An example: The worldwide market for automobile electrical systems and electronics is expected to grow at a rate of 5.9 percent per year, reaching $315 billion US by the year 2015 and ultimately representing more than 30 percent of the automobile’s value. You better believe the OEMs are going to align their sales, marketing and public relations to capitalize on that investment.
But this means that automotive communicators – in addition to being proficient in the auto, business, economic and environmental segments — need to put on another hat: that of technology expert. The onus is on automotive communicators to identify, understand and relate the trends that impact the way vehicles operate and intersect with our lives. Technology megatrends like cloud computing, privacy issues and big data aren’t just running parallel with automotive, they’re T-boning it! The choice is to either embrace this exciting collision and tell a story of change and synergy or watch your brand stagnate in the aftermath.
Buckling up and thriving amid this change isn’t something to panic over, nor is it necessarily special because it’s technology-related. As with all other communications challenges, it requires a sharp understanding of the audience and thoughtful planning. For example, research has shown that consumers expect greater reliability from their automotive technology than they do their personal tech devices. They have increasing expectations from infotainment system capabilities and services, but there’s a lag between in-vehicle tech development cycles and those typical in the general mobile electronics industry.
While an understanding of the technology at hand is non-negotiable for the automotive communications professional, the solutions to this particular issue are classic in nature: what strategies will bridge this gap between consumer desire and OEM? Or, if you’re a supplier, how can you persuade the OEMs that what you do can minimize the challenge? We can prep brands to get in front of and respond to these elevated consumer expectations with strategies that include (but aren’t limited to) consumer education, experiential marketing and product demos, reputation management, social media engagement, and perception and satisfaction measurement.
We’re strapped in and ready to apply strong communication fundamentals to a wildly innovative tech-auto era. Not convinced tech is a pivotal player in the automotive industry? Check out the ways technology is stealing the show at this year’s North American International Auto Show!
Janet Tyler is the Co-CEO of Airfoil, an integrated marketing communications firm with offices in Silicon Valley, Detroit, London and Hong Kong. Follow Janet on Twitter: @Janet_Tyler