Auto brands drive around digital speed breakers to plug friction gaps

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There are 26 touch points in the journey of a customer, from the time he decides to buy a car to the time he finally rolls it out of the showroom. Puneet Anand, group head-Marketing, Hyundai Motor says he and his team have mapped these points out carefully, in their attempt to  plot a journey for the brand that begins at a digital touch point and ends at a showroom. 

“Of the 26, nearly 22 points are now accessed through a mobile and laptop. It is important (therefore) for the OEMs to ensure that there should not be a friction in these points as it can change the customer’s mind,” says Anand. For Hyundai, Maruti and many others, the digital story is pushing them to stalk the e-commerce hallways in the shadow of potential buyers.

In Hyundai’s case, Anand says that nearly 75 per cent of buyers come armed to the showroom with months of online research, neatly stored in their mobile phones. Companies are dealing with a tech-savvy customer and they must know how to reach out to them, he says.

A similar story is playing out at Maruti Suzuki India. The company said that nearly 72 per cent of its customers interact with online touch-points before buying their vehicle. Besides, such behaviour is common to people across the country—be it a metro or a tier-3 buyer—and companies must be prepared to build a digital experience that is location agnostic. 

According to a Facebook-KPMG-Nielsen report, ‘Eliminating friction in automobile path to purchase,’ “Automobile purchase, by its very nature, is a high involvement process, and is usually pre-planned with near certainty of completion. It is critical for brands to understand consumer preferences at different media touch points and grab their attention.”

In the four-wheeler category, friction accounts for around 26 per cent of consumer dropouts, and one-third of this friction is caused by media, the report found. Consumer friction is defined as consumer dropout during the path of purchase, due to unnecessary additional effort, incremental step or inconvenience. 

 In the two-wheeler category, friction accounts for 34 per cent of consumer dropouts, and nearly half of this friction is caused by media. Companies want to plug the holes quickly, because mobile is expected to influence 8 out of 10 four-wheeler, and 7 out of 10 two-wheeler purchases by 2022. 

The car companies say that it is not enough to find out why consumers are dropping out, but use the data thus gathered to figure out ways to lure them back in. The high investment required in buying cars renders the purchase cycle of an automobile significantly longer than one year. And nearly four in every five four-wheeler and two in three two-wheeler aware decision-makers do not complete their purchase journey after initiating it.

Given the large number of buyers researching online before they step into a showroom, Hyundai decided to pitch its premium sedan Elantra on social media platforms first. “It was a value proposition, we invest only one -fifth but returns are heavy and we also reached the right target audience,” Anand said. The Elantra experience was used as a case study to showcase YouTube’s marketing potential  as the campaign garnered nearly 500,000 impressions within a few hours.

 Shashank Srivastava, executive director-Marketing & Sales, Maruti Suzuki India says, “Offering a consistent consumer experience offline and online is a priority for us.”  Digital has helped make information more accessible to customers and reduced the ‘Enquiry-Booking-Retail’ cycle to as short as 11 days, Srivastava points out. Facebook was able to move brand imagery parameters for the company significantly during the Swift launch in the last Auto Expo, he added.

The company has been strengthening its digital processes. But friction, says Srivastava, can’t be eliminated completely. At the end, a consumer walks into the showroom to make the final purchase where a Dealer Sales Executive (DSE) guides him through the process. “Over 90 per cent of our enquiries are handled via customised sales apps across Arena and Nexa channels. However stitching offline data to the online data to (offer a) ‘single view’ of customer can help minimise friction,” he adds.

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