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#SocialThrowback2020: Automobile Sector A&M recap with Dominic Toretto

With the help of Dominic Toretto's wisdom, we take a deeper look at how the Automobile Sector braved 2020 with relevant marketing strategies.

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Jagruti Verma
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Automobile Sector marketing 2020


With the help of Dominic Toretto's wisdom and grit, we take a deeper look at how the Automobile Sector braved 2020 with relevant marketing strategies.

Earlier this year, a Hyundai showroom in Brazil made headlines for adopting a street dog. Tucson Prime has since achieved celebrityhood on social media, adding value to their initiatives as an adorable petfluencer, sparking off conversations and helping with brand recall. Thus proving that the pull of all things personal is really powerful in marketing, especially in times of a crisis. It was a key element in the functioning of the automobile sector in 2020 — to keep investing in deeper connections via marketing initiatives even when the chance of making a sale is slim to none.

As Vivek Srivatsa, Head – Marketing, Passenger Vehicles Business Unit, Tata Motors puts it, "To accommodate consumer needs during the pandemic along with the mandatory lockdown, our focus was on keeping our consumers engaged rather than simply selling our vehicles."

The brand's social media communication was thus redesigned to lift customer morale and a variety of initiatives were introduced to ensure customers were attended to despite the lack of sales. These included #AloneTogether and #SafetyFirst.

"Money will come and go. We all know that. The most important thing in life will always be the people in this room. Right here, right now," Fast & Furious' Dominic Torreto sure approves.

"You make a deal, you got to live up to it."

For existing customers, brands had to keep up the quality of services despite the lockdown and for potential customers, they had to stay upbeat and around for when they things would start to look up and they would be ready to make a purchase. As Dom would say, "You make a deal, you got to live up to it."

Due to the circumstances created by COVID-19, the automobile sector in India had to step their digital offerings this year, facilitating virtual processes that were at par with the real-life car buying and maintaining experiences.

This included the luxury automobile segment as brands like Audi, Jeep, Jaguar, and Land Rover as well as others such as Tata Motors and Maruti Suzuki, which rolled out new and upgraded their existing various sales and after-sales offerings with enhanced features and easy-to-use interface.

At the core, marketing-related efforts were made by the automobile sector brands to help potential buyers visualise cars with the help of Virtual and Augmented Reality, as a result of the circumstances that cropped up in 2020. They could simply log in and get a 360 degree look and feel of the vehicle that they wished to own.

To increase the scope of leads via digital, Tata Motors launched dealer specific webpages and Google My Business (GMB) for all their dealers. This was instrumental in guiding customers to their nearest dealership.

Online chats and calling options were made available to help them make informed decisions. Sanitised vehicles were made available at doorsteps of customers who were comfortable going for test drives. Contactless vehicle pick and drop facilities were extended to existing customers.

These were the aspects where minimal contact was essential in the process, adding elements of personalisation to the largely automated experience.

Explaining the dual nature of these efforts at the launch of the Book My Jeep initiative, Dr Partha Datta – President and Managing Director, FCA India had said, "While the digital module will do its job of providing information and collecting necessary customer data, our dealer personnel will continue to personalise the retail experience the human way."

"This time it ain’t just about being fast."

The pandemic brought it with an unprecedented situation the teams had to find a way through with their marketing plans. The rules changed rapidly, evolving at a much quicker pace than anyone would have anticipated. And yet it wasn't all about being fast, being direct was not an option. Reminds you of Dom's, "This time it ain’t just about being fast," no?

"As the phases of unlock began, our strategy slowly steered towards sales. Personal mobility became the need of the hour and we wanted to aid our customers with the same in every possible way," Tata Motor' Srivatsa tells us. Towards this, the brand launched the Keys to Safety package that included long tenure loans and flexible EMIs.

Digital campaigns, aided by hyperlocal marketing initiatives were able to help the brand garner an increase of 104% in Google search queries.

Hyundai India was also among the brands that came out with special packages towards the end of the year as a means to nudge people into either buying or at least keep planning to buy a new vehicle.

Sharing insights from the world of two-wheelers, Aniruddha Haldar, VP (Marketing) – Commuter Motorcycles, Scooters & Corporate Brand, TVS Motor Company tells us, "This year, safety concerns have led to people preferring solo sanitised mobility solutions over public transport."

"We observed that even in this situation, our customers continue to exhibit distinct needs, some prefer better mileage and ease of operation of the vehicle, while some seek speed and performance. The family continues to be at the centre of buying consideration," he adds.

"I don't have friends, I got family."

As much as building a community is a part of a brand's communications mandate, 2020 made this item to the top of every automobile sector businesses' list. They were almost forced to agree with Dom, "I don't have friends. I got family."

As the world was braving the onslaught of COVID-19, automobile brands like Jeep took it upon themselves to highlight stories of Corona warriors. The brand connect was brought in by stressing how cars helped them reach their workplaces safely and function as required.

Hero MotoCorp roped in celebrities to nudge people into sharing stories of heroes that are helping the society and economy rebound from the impact and effects of COVID-19. This was in sync with their popular Hum Mein Hai Hero brand communications.

Brands continued efforts to build their communities via digital means. Specific apps with functional usage and tidbits of information seemed key to such initiatives.

An important aspect of creating a community, especially in the luxury segment is merchandising. Such products help create and nurture aspirations that have the potential to someday turn into a purchase.

Given the kind of resources big brands have at their disposal, many stepped up to help government authorities with CSR initiatives. This includes massive sanitisation drives, which were well-documented on social media, helping these brands stay relevant and useful in the larger narrative.

Influencer marketing campaigns were run by automobile sector brands such as Nissan and Hyundai as a means to stay connected with potential consumers in 2020. While the former concentrated on a social media campaign to promote their new car among enthusiasts with UGC content and digital assets, Hyundai's focus was on exclusive photoshoots.

As things started to fall in place, brands are sharing pictures of happy customers to keep up the momentum. These pictures act as catalysts and help dispel doubts about safety among potential customers.

Tata Motors' Srivatsa summarises the consumer base of the automobile industry as one that's constantly evolving. "The need of the hour is personal mobility to ensure one’s safety. There has been a visible growth in first-time buyers. Hence, the aim has been to make available a car that is feature-rich and safe at every price point to cater to a wide audience," he tells us.

Further, Haldar lists the TVS Motor Company's biggest lessons in the last few months: Customer motivation is moving from desire to need, value is a critical parameter for evaluation, hope not fear creates a bias for action, the family drives decision making across cohorts and that new solutions are always welcome.

With a belief that a crisis should never be wasted, TVS Motor Company is working towards devising an innovative value proposition that addresses consumer needs, delivers a favourable view of the future, and encompasses the family in the experience.

For the two-wheeler industry, Haldar feels it's important to drive a frictionless online experience for consumers as mobile penetration increases in the hinterland.

Despite the odds, the automobile sector was able to stay afloat and relevant in the minds and wallets of consumers through 2020. After all, as Dominic said, "It don't matter if you win by an inch or a mile. Winning's winning."

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