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Cars That Drive Us

What does brand experience look like as a new era is ushered in?

The car sales and ownership model is changing. The interplay between manufacturer, dealer and consumer is being disrupted. Car manufacturers have been heavily influenced by technology firms in the way they develop and launch products. We’re buying before we’re test driving. Lured by stealth product launches, big reveals, and where the ‘ludicrous setting’ is a real thing. The car has a new story – one built on technology, environmental credentials and a sharing economy. Tesla has been the main protagonist of this change, but the big groups have been clear that their future is electric and autonomous. Which means the tipping point is near.

So in this exciting time – how do automotive companies create brand experiences for the customer of tomorrow?

The future of brand experience in automotive

To frame our thinking on this, we’ve made some assumptions about how the industry is changing. Of course some of these should be taken with a pinch of salt – but are based on a decent dollop of reasoning:

  • the language of automotive is shifting from the values of ownership to enablement
  • the meaning of the car is shifting away from self expression and status to convenience and purpose
  • the sales experience is changing as consumers are being asked to purchase off-plan and on a promise
  • electric will replace combustion and the car is becoming part of a bigger ecosystem of sustainability and renewability
  • electric is the big opportunity to do something new. It’s very different to the homogenous and incremental model releases we’re used to
  • the brand playing field has widened, resulting in greater diversity, and new questions around reputation, risk and regulation

Automotive infrastructure - your most powerful customer experience playground

Big auto has a key weapon in this new future – your physical environments. From the glitz of major shows around the world, elbowing in on and owning events like CES, through to the physical dealerships themselves.

So this existing infrastructure makes for a fantastic playground. We think the big automotive brands have an opportunity to deploy their people and their environments in new ways that makes for a better brand experience and a better customer journey.

Here are some of our thoughts.

Motor shows

The purpose of the motor show is under scrutiny. We’re seeing brands starting to pull out of or reduce their involvement in some of the established smaller shows on the calendar.

As digital becomes increasingly immersive and launches are being held in independent or brand – owned environments, brands have new tools and techniques at their disposal for creating truly memorable experiences that connect to their audiences.

And as the traditional sales framework is less appealing to modern consumers, the real opportunity now lies in the ability to take the key learnings from motor shows and redeploy the budget by striking out into new spaces – like CES – to best engage with your future customers, your press core, your key partners and of course your dealership network.


What if dealerships were no longer just sales centres? If the car is to become a shared commodity in the future. It is likely that the dealership model – in its current form is outmoded. Instead dealerships should become a community hub. Where customers can immerse themselves in the other things your brand stands for – your sponsorships, your technology, your story and your culture.

‘The brick and click dealership store itself needs to at least meet, if not exceed, the best high – street experience. The physical store portfolio needs to tick a few 21st century boxes, like using digital technology (screens, tablets, holography, simulators and power walls instead of cars on display) and using new formats like interactive pop up stores with augmented or virtual reality experiences.’

– Excerpt from Forbes, 2016 on based on Frost & Sullivan research report on the Future of Automotive Retail

The purpose and function of the dealership must evolve. At its core key services such as vehicle maintenance will continue to be crucial. But as petrol stations become redundant, there’s a new purpose behind dealerships – a place to recharge the batteries, literally and metaphorically.

This functional change will usher in a new type of audience too. As brands build a more diverse retail footprint geographically they can participate in new environments such as city and shopping centres. This is key – because it’s in these spaces where different segmented audiences explore and buy.

The Customer Journey

Our final focus here is on the customer sales journey. There’s a disproportionate amount of focus on the wants, needs and behaviours of millennials. Yes they’re a key audience – but we forget that we’re also an ageing population. Over one fifth of the UK population will be over 65 by 2021 and these older adult groups have a disproportionate amount of disposable income.

This is important, because the trend towards selling like tech firms do – where consumers are being asked to purchase without being able to test drive the car – will be uncomfortable for core consumers. Buyer confidence, trust, reliability and security are still massively important considerations.

So as we hit the tipping point in the race to electric – the early adopters don’t have the heritage and engineering stories that many customers will crave – something the established firms can capitalise on. While the dawn of this new automotive era is an exciting one, we shouldn’t underestimate the impact of an autonomous vehicle driving into the side of a lorry and a newly launched car failing to do its party trick and park itself. Technology is and always will be fallible. So in a time of rapid product iteration and running before walking, the big auto firms will benefit by dialing up their deep – rooted experience in building ultra – safe and innovative cars.

‘Automotive retail will shift from a product – driven to a customer – centric approach to drive customer loyalty and to adapt to changing customer behavior and expectations.’

EY – Future of Automotive Retail

We believe there’s a real opportunity for automotive firms to develop brand experiences that focus on and engage all audiences across different sales stages. This is an exciting time for automotive leadership and marketing teams. It’s going to get complex, but our advice is to stay focused on your audiences – because no matter what industry you’re in – being customer – centric is the future.

Here at SET Live our focus on creating physical experiences for audiences combined with our experience working with automotive brands means we have a positive and opportunistic view of the future of the automotive industry.


- Guy Tremlett
Creative Director, SET LIVE


Questions & Considerations

How can you get more from your existing infrastructure? Maximising your competitive advantage.

How you get the most value from the ‘car show’?

How well do you know your audiences? Do you have an objective approach to this – focusing on ALL your customer segments?

How do you engage customers post – sale but pre – delivery in meaningful ways?

What does the future of the ‘test – drive’ look like in an era where demonstrators are a thing of the past?

How do you take the story of the car, and extend it as an experience at every touchpoint of the customer experience?

Thanks for reading. If you want to talk to us about any aspect of your brand experience and event strategy we’d love to hear from you.