Automotive analysts expect 2015 to be a banner year for new vehicle sales in the U.S. In fact, February sales are expected to be up 8% from a year ago. Technology sells and so does innovation. The doom and gloom of 2009 and recall-laden 2014 take position in automakers’ rearview mirror. Look at the all-new aluminum 2015 Ford F-150. Buick is making a comeback as a brand loved by consumers and critics. But these moments in the sun may soon give way to a white squall of disruption that looms in the distance.  

Autonomous driving and 54.5 miles-per-gallon (MPG) standard for new cars and trucks will be reality by 2025. These are two very disruptive changes for automakers and consumers. Consumer and industry adoption will require some serious behavioral and perception shifts. Marketing communicators must be driving both business and communications strategy now around these changes to prime the market.

In these great times, how can communications and marketing leaders persuade their organizations to invest and prepare now for the Winter of 2025?

 Here are 5 ideas to jump-start the conversation and build a long-term strategic plan to weather the impending storm:

1. Arm yourselves – The best weapon is data. Consumer and industry data can help you predict the future and understand the road ahead. This can help determine where you need to educate and motivate consumers. For example, electric vehicle adoption and sales have slowed, yet, to meet these MPG standards, these vehicles will need to be part of the product mix. Why aren’t consumers buying these vehicles? And for the love of the Starks, let’s stop blaming the price of gas! We’re better than that. What more can we do to educate/motivate them and change this behavior?  

2. Get smart about new technologies and technology trends – Autonomous driving is like the white walker we know is out there, but we don’t exactly know when or how it will show up. What is it? What does it mean in terms of consumer behavior? What are technology companies doing to test these vehicles? How can you prepare? Smartphones, the Internet of Things – what are the latest developments? Technology is disrupting every industry, including automotive. It has far-reaching implications beyond the connected car and in-vehicle entertainment. Embracing it as friend versus foe will make all the difference for marketers and brands alike.

3. Invest in building your brand – As technology disrupts, industries will converge. To consumers, your brands vs. your products will become more important. In the digital age, non-technology brands have invested less in brand building and more in driving sales and ROI with their marketing dollars. And, as a results, technology brands now dominate the world’s most valuable brands – Apple, Samsung, Google, Microsoft, Verizon and AT&T are at the top of The Wall looking at the tiny dots below who are trying desperately to reach the summit.

4. Listen and respond – Developing a real, authentic relationship with your customers will be key to managing the change ahead. Strong engagement and relevant content that speaks to customers (not touting your own news) is what will be impetrative. Just as the most shrewd characters in Game of Thrones do more listening than talking, it is imperative that brands do the same to stay ahead, make strategic moves and gain loyalty in a new realm.

5. Demand action – In the digital age, brands are no longer in charge or in control of the message. So make moves now to plan your attack. Start the conversations with executives now so that your brand is not left behind. Be proactive. Push for funding from long-term initiatives. Set a goal of shifting and shaping consumer perceptions, as well as behavior. This approach will make marketing communications a strategic pillar of the business strategy and align your resources to win the big battle.

Can your brand endure the Winter of 2025? The time to prepare is now. It’s time for auto brands to take a cue from the Starks. “The winters are hard, but the Starks will endure. We always have.” – Eddard ‘Ned’ Stark to Robert Baratheon

To read about Leah’s recent conversation with PRWeek on the road ahead for auto, download the eBook here. Also, read what we think will kill the auto industry and let us know what your thoughts by engaging with us @AirfoilGroup or with Leah @LBHaran.