Customers want to have an authentic experience with the brand: Gaurav Sinha, Audi India

Gaurav Sinha Audi India Marketing

Digital is increasingly playing a major role in luxury car segment purchases, Audi India Marketing & PR Head spells out how and why the medium is the key for auto-sales in a pandemic.

For the luxury car segment, most purchases happen with emotions at their core. It isn’t about mileage or leg space. Rather, it’s often about what the vehicle means to the owner. Branding is, of course, a big part of creating an aura compelling enough to make them shell out lakhs of rupees. Audi India has been steadily increasing their digital footprint with a focus to drive engagement. They are also working to enhance their AR/VR based experiences and online configurations. This has helped them get closer to their customers in smaller towns, with engagement coming in from Karnal, Coimbatore, Lucknow and Baroda, claims Gaurav Sinha, Head of Marketing & PR, Audi India. In conversation with Social Samosa, he lists out all one needs to know about the brand’s digitisation journey so far.

Audi India has been aggressively working on expanding digital experiences of buying a car — how did things accelerate in the last two years?

There has been a tectonic shift in the digital space. While there has been a gradual build-up happening over the years with queries coming in through the website and social channels, the last two years have seen a rapid change in the purchase behaviour within the category. There has been a swift shift towards more digital research with customers expecting information immediately at their fingertips. We recognised this early on and were the first brand in the luxury car segment to introduce a host of tech-driven new-age solutions for customers as well as our dealer partners.

One of the most important initiatives was offering Connected Car technology through the ‘myAudi Connect’ App. It complimented the lifestyle of Audi owners by bringing a host of lifestyle features and offers in addition to features like time-based curfew notifications and disturbance notifications, which alerted customers in case of any incident with the car. 

With the introduction of online sales and service initiatives in 2020, we took digital experiences to the living rooms of our customers and offered them the flexibility to purchase an Audi and even book their next service appointment online. We have seen robust traction in the number of people reaching out digitally. 

While buying a car in India, so much of it is about test drives and multiple visits to the showroom. How have things changed in the last few years? Is there a difference in the way this phenomenon has impacted brands in the budget and luxury segments respectively?

Customer experience consists of pre-buying, buying, and post-buying – and while pre-buying can be done digitally, the buying experience is still largely showroom driven. 

Earlier the entire luxury car buying experience was done physically. During the pandemic, a Phygital (Physical + Digital) pre-buying experience is what we are experiencing. The Audi VR experience is useful for customer consultation at Audi dealerships as well as the location of customer’s choice. Our dealerships across India are trained and can deliver the AR experience to our customers and enthusiasts seamlessly. With VR solutions, customers can get an extremely realistic experience of their individually configured car, down to the last detail. The customer can not only see the car from outside but can sit inside and also use the various controls. 

While customers are spending a lot more time looking at the car online and customizing it; a physical visit to the showroom, a test drive, and interaction with the sales team at dealerships continues to remain important as buying works differently in the luxury car segment being a highly emotional purchase. 

Could you tell us about the kind of response #AudiShowroomInEveryRoom has gotten so far?

The unique visits on our website have gone up 44% from last year while configurations on the website have seen a 75% spike this year as compared to the last. About 18-20% of Audi India’s lead generation happened through online channels. We see this growing in the future as along with our dealers we are geared up to offer the perfect experience both digitally and through dealerships. 

How do you hope for augmented reality to shape the automotive industry?

Looking at the larger picture on the overall eco-system beyond sales, Audi globally uses augmented reality and virtual reality in multiple areas right from planning complex logistics processes to using “virtual exhibits” to visualize technical processes and complex technologies to display technology. With the optional augmented reality head-up display in the Q4 e-tron and Q4 Sportback e-tron, Audi is taking a huge step forward in display technology. The display reflects important information via the windshield on two separate levels, the status section, and the augmented reality section.

At Audi India, we continue to invest in data for customer insights, explore technologies like AI and work with partners to learn more from our existing customers for enhancing our AR and digitalisation initiatives. Some of that insight is being used to completely digitise and provide a seamless journey to prospective Audi e-tron customers.

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Going forward in 2022 and beyond, what role would brand ambassadors play in the marketing mix for luxury segment car brands? How would this differ if one were to take into consideration the growing importance of social media influencers?

I believe brand ambassadors and social media influencers will play their unique roles in the future. Audi India has been associated with Indian cricketers for many years and we have recently continued our association with Virat Kohli who has been a part of the Audi India family for more than half a decade and is clearly a great fit for the brand. He is not only a friend of the brand but also a customer and has been driving an Audi since 2012 when he first bought his car.

Virat Kohli has been an integral part of Audi India’s marketing and social campaigns over the years. He has featured extensively in campaigns like #TogetherWithAudi, #MovingForward, and a few product launch campaigns. He also owns several exciting Audi models. Over the years, the connection with the brand has turned out to be more emotional than commercial. This is where our focus will be in building a strong emotional influencer connect with individuals who represent the brand. Broadly speaking, every segment, brand, and the campaign will link itself to different influencers to see the right fit for the scenario and tactically engage. 

While a brand ambassador is a very strategic discussion and the correct brand connect is of paramount importance, many social media influencers proactively connect with the Audi brand because of the pull that the brand has. We especially enjoy many organic engagements where people take up our brand and products as they are brand enthusiasts.  

Could you tell us more about the aspects of digital marketing that Audi India would be focussing on in 2022? 

Under the communicative approach “Future is an Attitude”, Audi is uniting worldwide marketing activities, while taking account of cultural and country-specific requirements. “Vorsprung durch Technik” will remain the brand claim. This will be taken forward in India in our new campaigns.

As a brand, we continue to focus heavily on digital and social media platforms and assess the customer engagement offered by various platforms as the situations evolve. 

The marketing campaigns over this year and 2022 will focus on a healthy mix of brand, product launches, business (pre-sales, after-sales and Audi Approved: plus), and customer-centric communication.

For Audi India, innovation has been the key to expand our outreach. We will focus on using the right mediums available to target our fans, prospects, and customers through various innovations in the digital marketing field. 

What are some of the marketing trends that would define the luxury car segment in 2022?

2020 was an extremely challenging year that accelerated the adoption of newer ways to work even in the field of marketing. Consumer Marketing has adopted digitalisation faster as that became the primary channel to not only share the message but also offer sales and post-sales experience. 

There will of course be an uptick in people going digital in 2021, owing to not only convenience but also more inherently a ‘need’ as they limit their physical engagements. Therefore, Digitalisation will continue to be a popular route to engage with, not only immediate prospective customers but also a broad set of customers who are brand enthusiasts, fans, and advocates. 

Digitalisation will make the consumer experience more seamless this year. Social media will act as a medium for brands to gain deeper customer insights apart from representing their purpose and brand DNA. We have seen that digital media has become the dominant channel for Audi customers as well as fans.

Today, customers want to have an authentic experience with the brand. With customers expecting a response at every touchpoint, conversational marketing is going to continue to be an important factor in a successful marketing strategy. 

Marketing has moved beyond the traditional methods of advertising with digital marketing becoming a focal point. While AR/VR technologies are still on the periphery, it is going to play a significant role in the marketing strategy of brands going forward. With Audi’s AR/VR technology, we are taking digital experiences to the living rooms of our customers and creating a simple and seamless path for them to purchase.