The fundamental changes facing our industry over the next decade and the speed at which auto buyers are changing creates a new paradigm for marketers – and they have an urgent need for new tools to help them navigate it.
The changing face of auto brand equity
The entire basis of consumers’ relationship to cars is shifting. Products that were once an aspirational rite of passage now have to prove their value to urbanised consumers happy to consider life without them. Brands that earned respect for their engineering prowess and performance on the road are increasingly judged on their ability to interface with smartphones, help with parking or alert drivers to congested roads ahead. Climate change and the need for alternative fuel technologies add an ethical dimension to the decision over which vehicle to buy for more and more consumers. The qualities and associations that built the strongest auto brands of today will probably not be the qualities and associations that build the strongest auto brands of tomorrow.
A new competitive landscape
The competitive landscape is changing too. Toyota, Volkswagen, GM, Ford, BMW and the rest won’t just have to track their brand performance against fast-emerging regional rivals such as China’s Haval and ChangAn. In a few years’ time they may also be competing with the likes of Google, and before then their brand strategies will have to take account of the disruption from the likes of Uber. In a world where technology interfaces exert ever-greater influence over vehicle choices, they must understand too how the brand equity of potential tech partners aligns with and supports their own.
Time for predictive brand tracking
Auto brands need a whole new level of insight and maneuverability when it comes to negotiating this new landscape; a means of ensuring that campaigns align with current consumer needs and motivations, in time to refine them and keep them on track. Traditional brand equity surveys take weeks to compile, which tends to leave brands looking in the rear view mirror at what they could have done better for this campaign or that launch. What they need is the ability to predict those brand equity scores in advance. And thanks to a pioneering new form of brand equity tracking, that’s what they can now have.
Researchers and marketers have known for some time that search and social data could hold the key to providing a real-time take on brand equity. However, there have been big concerns about how accurate and how representative such data really is. Not everyone expresses their views on social media – and certain types of people are far more likely to do so than others. When a Twitter user mentions Apple do they mean the fruit or the iPhone manufacturer? And can we really be confident of picking up the tone of voice that people are using when commenting online?
The solution lies in sophisticated data-cleaning and modelling techniques that can interpret the context and meaning of social media commentary, and weight it accurately to reflect the balance of consumer opinion. When we used such techniques to generate brand equity scores from search and social data, we found that they predicted the results of traditional surveys with 90% accuracy – and did so up to eight weeks in advance. And the predictive scores correlated with brand equity for auto brands just as accurately as they did for other categories. Our studies prove the viability and value of predictive, search and social-driven brand tracking.
What does this mean for the auto industry? It means that marketers now have the power to look into the future; to see how their brand will perform, not just how it has performed. It gives them the opportunity to anticipate behaviours, perceive trends, and pre-empt risks, not simply learn from what’s happened in the past.
Purely and simply, it’s a game-changer for brand research in auto. And it’s a game-changer that’s happening just in time.