The weight of expectation created by connected car technology is huge. And we’re not talking about consumers who want better sat nav or smarter infotainment. To be honest, technology is moving so fast now that it far outstrips consumer expectation. Features and apps have already been developed to solve problems they don’t even know they have and entertain in ways they have yet to imagine possible. Their expectations are still fairly basic but nonetheless important – functional features to help smooth their journey, and apps that allow them to bring their lifestyle along for the ride. The greater expectation comes from the other end of the spectrum – the manufacturers who are investing billions in developing smart tech, hoping that it provides unique ways to differentiate and open up new streams of revenue.
Closer connections take relationships to the next level
On the face of it, their plan is a good one. Car buyers love on-board tech, with an increasing number factoring the connectedness of a car into their purchasing decision. By being in constant digital contact with the car’s brain, and assuming that customers are happy to share behavioural data, OEMs gain a valuable understanding of real-world usage. They know, for example, how often the driver travels alone and if it is a significant proportion of journeys, could recommend a smaller model when it’s time for the owner to change their car. They could even offer a temporary substitute on the infrequent occasion when a larger vehicle is required – for example, family holidays. This kind of insight provides OEMs with credible, benefit-led reasons to develop a much closer relationship with their consumers and in the process, increase trust, add value and lock in brand loyalty.
A breakdown, before the car is even on the road
But this apparently smooth road ahead is not without bumps. Aside from data sharing privacy issues, a worryingly significant numbers of connected car owners aren’t using the features and capabilities at their fingertips or worse still, are unaware of their presence. If this trend continues it’s clear that the OEMs’ grand plan will grind to a halt. Low adoption rates could result in the potential benefits of a connectedness strategy being left largely unrealised. It seems odd that consumers are not using features that they keep telling us they love. There’s a communication breakdown somewhere and we believe it happens even before the cars leave the dealers’ forecourts.
Simplicity is key to connected car success
Lack of awareness and use of connected car features isn’t a result of people not being interested or excited by them. It’s because they either aren’t aware of the technology in the first place, or that it’s just too complicated to use. And more than that, when they turn to their dealership for help, expertise is not what they find. So what can be done to ensure OEM expectations are met and customer needs satisfied? We believe the answer is simple, or to be more accurate, simplicity.
New car owners like features they find easy to use and relevant to their lifestyle. It therefore follows that OEMs need to be clear about what the connected application is and why it is worth using. They can’t just develop innovations and believe that consumers will automatically discover what features there are and what they do. Raising awareness of the feature benefits will inevitably drive greater consumer adoption. This can be done initially through targeted marketing – matching the most appropriate and useful feature to the most receptive target audience – and then at the point of purchase by well-trained, knowledgeable sales people expertly explaining what the features do and how they will benefit the driver’s life. It will obviously require enhanced dealership staff training and perhaps a change in their sales technique, attitude and priorities.
It sounds so basic, but in the rush to be first with the latest it’s this crucial element that’s missing. More effective ‘on-boarding’ during the sales process leads to greater customer adoption of the technology, with more than half of regular users having been given an explanation of the features during their test-drive, while very few non-users got a similar demo. Many consumers believe that the technology is just a bolt-on gimmick and not something that could become an indispensable part of their motoring life. But with a better understanding of driver and passenger habits and preferences, manufacturers can enhance the on-board experience. Highlighting relevant information during the journey such as points of interest, shops and even sporting events – all based on what they know about the car’s occupants – connects the OEM on a deeper emotional level than was ever possible before. And at a functional level, improved fuel efficiency and integration with the wider public transport network are all features that tech savvy people are keen to use. Garmin’s Automotive OEM division has already developed intermodal applications that take drivers on the ‘last mile’ of their journey after they have parked and exited their car, while more than one manufacturer is developing clever journey planning tech that suggests the most efficient and effective way to get from A to B – sometimes not involving the car at all!
Revolutionising the industry one click at a time
By designing features that are more intuitive and have a better interface between the driver and their car, OEMs will also increase the uptake of connected car technology. When the feature’s benefit is just one or two clicks away, people will use it whereas asking them questions or for passwords and codes is a sure-fire way to irritate and render the application redundant.
Increased awareness and better education about connected car features coupled with easier to use interfaces will undoubtedly lead to greater uptake. As will making the features relevant to the lives of drivers and their families. Doing so will unlock the necessary volumes of data required to better understand consumer needs and develop customised products and targeted marketing. It’s a simple strategy, but one that has to have an easy entry point for the end-user. And it needs to happen fast, as today’s innovations quickly become tomorrow’s basic requirements. Get all of that right and it will help individual brands differentiate themselves, lock consumers into features they cannot do without and ultimately fulfil OEM expectations of a revolutionised business model.
Vincent Groen is Automotive Head at Kantar TNS Nipo. He has 20 years’ experience developing automotive business in the Netherlands. Vincent is also a member of Kantar TNS’s Global Automotive Steering Committee. He recently lead the Kantar TNS & BearingPoint study which explored connected car driver engagement to their features.