Maruti, Honda, BMW hone the phygital experience for customer affinity

Hyundai New Tucson named its launch event ‘The Next Dimension,’ which garnered 11 million views and had over two lakh attendees
As the nodal points in a buyers purchase journey turn digital, auto brands are looking at ways to convert their faceless virtual avatars into a sticky web of engagements and create lifelong associations. To do that brand teams are working through the mass of behavioural patterns being evidenced on their digital platforms, to create hooks that would draw new buyers in and keep old followers engaged and interested. But say market researchers, it is time to dig deeper, go beyond the gimmicky world of augmented reality launches and chat bots if the auto brands want to convert engagements into sales and loyalty points.

It is well known that the pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of the car buyer; today 21 out of 25 touch points in an auto customer’s journey are digital and 90 per cent of customers search online before buying a car today according to a report by EY (The invisible car salesman, July 2020). While this presents an unprecedented opportunity, the report asks: how well-equipped are OEMs and dealerships in managing this sudden accelerated change in consumer behaviour?

Rajesh Goel, senior vice president and director, Marketing and Sales, Honda Cars India says that auto brands have been quick to understand that digital is no longer an advertising-only medium. “It is a critical unit in the organisation to engage with customers, drive business through experience and help in learning things about the customer,” he said.

Shashank Srivastava, executive director (Marketing & Sales), Maruti Suzuki India said that nearly 45 per cent of the enquiries today are coming from digital channels, up from 13 per cent in 2018-19. “As an organisation we are working on a phygital model, where there is a balance between digital interface and actual dealership showrooms,” he added. 


The auto companies have devised several digital interventions in the car purchase journey, in honour of the new consumer. For instance Srivastava said that at Maruti, digital insights helped design content marketing strategies to engage with customers. He points to content creation initiatives on Nexa Music that acts as a platform for young talent. “We are using interesting ways to engage with our consumers like the ‘Call Ranveer’ campaign that lets customers talk to their favourite celebrity. Our recent campaign on Swift Limitless Stories is another interesting example,” he said. Such initiatives help put a face to the brand’s otherwise faceless virtual presence.

At Honda, the challenge was launching the fifth generation Honda City during a pandemic. According to Goel, the company tracked content consumption patterns and customised its marketing content to suit the different stages of the purchase journey online.  

Nissan took to social media to announce the date for the digital world premier of the SUV Ariya

Apart from using customer data to reduce friction in the online sales process, companies have also focused on a smooth buying experience. BMW recently launched BMW Contactless Experience, which its spokesperson said, helps customers explore, select and buy a car without stepping out of their homes.
There is little doubt that auto companies have expanded the digital footprint significantly and have been innovative with the marketing hooks too. But how effective are they? Companies are using AR and VR, but these have become more of ‘good to have’ showcase aids, without enabling any meaningful conversations about the car and sales conversion, according to the EY report. What is missing is an integrated platform for dealers, auto makers and the aggregator websites that would be able to convert many more explorers into long term loyalists. 

Companies are working towards that end according to both Goel and Shrivastava.  “Unlike other commodities, car ownership journey doesn’t end at purchase but it paves path for the beginning of a long association between customer and dealer, as car maintenance is a crucial ownership requirement which is provided by dealers through the years of ownership,” Goel said, emphasising the need for the two to work together in the phygital model.

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