The In Car Touch Point: Everything Marketers Need to Know


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The in-car experience represents an untapped marketing opportunity within the automotive industry, says Thilo Koslowski, VP and lead auto analyst at Gartner. When customers get behind the wheel of their cars they become an almost literally captive audience, potentially making contact with brands through this in-car touch point.

A touch point can be defined various ways, but can generally be regarded from a marketing POV as “every point of contact – online and off; each communication, human resource, branding, marketing and sales process initiative creates touch points. The quality of touch point experiences drives perceptions, actions and relationships.” As the definition suggests, touch points are the components of the brand experience, which in turn shapes customer perception. Each touch point should deliver brand value and a stand-alone customer experience. That’s why marketers are already thinking about the digital customer experience in the car.

Marketing within the in-car experience involves communicating personalized and useful messaging in an environment where the customer is already engaged in a potentially life-threatening activity. As we all know, texting and driving is illegal and other forms of techno-distraction aren’t recommended when operating any kind of vehicle. As such, this particular touch point it isn’t yet widely accessible to brands and marketers, nor is it well understood.

Here’s the information marketers need to stay in the know when it comes to in-car brand messages and best practices.

Understanding the Connected Car

Digital marketing author Scarlett Jones MacKenzie discussed the In-Car touch point, stating that it was defined by the connected car. Connected cars typically have internet access and a wireless local area network (LAN) that they can share with other devices inside and outside the vehicle. Cars are now connected to Wi-Fi, 3G and the driver’s smartphone, giving brands and advertisers access to new marketing tools.

Let’s look at the 3 most basic components of the in-car touch point, according to iMedia:

  • Advertisers can make partnerships with car manufacturers in order to integrate their brand into the in-car touch point and mobile experience.
  • Carrying marketing messages across all channels allows consumers to see push notifications while travelling that are connected to the messages they may have seen on other channels.
  • In-car marketing programs will all be opt-in and therefore marketers need to give consumers a reason or some form of value in order to incite them to opt-in.

Since the car is such a personal and at-times private experience, some industry officials believe that opting-in is the only way this channel will be embraced by the consumer.

Some applications of in-car marketing may make the consumer want to opt-in if they are offering value and presented properly. For example, after driving your new car for 30kms you get a notice from your dealership saying you’re due for a tune-up, offering a discount on an oil service. PC World covered the connected car in 2014 giving another hypothetical scenario of how in car marketing messages could  benefit consumers: “You’re steering your car around an unfamiliar city, close to lunchtime, and you’re not exactly sure where to eat, let alone where you can park. But your in-car infotainment system springs into action, serving up not only the location of a nearby parking lot but also coupons and offers for restaurants just steps away from where you’ve left your car.” These are both useful situations where customers are likely to be more receptive to in-car messages than if they were irrelevant or intrusive.

In-Car Marketing Comes to Life, But Not Without Concern

Director of the Connected Car Expo, Andy Gryc, says the in-vehicle touch point is an opportunity for marketing messages to be beneficial to consumers only if done unobtrusively. Since consumers have already allowed GPS into their lives enthusiastically, this is the first place marketers and brands tapped into in order to reach consumers on their commute. Magellan’s SmartGPS led the way connecting their system to the consumer’s Smartphone and offering helpful information on the display screen like weather, gas prices, Yelp reviews, traffic, safety alerts and more. The Yelp and Foursquare alerts were particularly novel for marketers of restaurants and food chains because for the first time they could suggest and offer discounts to places people could eat while they were actually driving by it or within proximity.

Similarly, subscribers of the Aha Radio dash-system were offered audio location-based deals. Drivers would listen to an ad that came on the radio promising a free drink and chips at a nearby Quiznos Subs. To receive the coupon the driver would have to tap the “thumbs up” button on the in-dash screen and coupons were then sent by email to the user’s Smartphone. While having to interact with the screen by touching it can cause driver distraction, some luxury vehicles have joystick-like remote control for in-dash messaging so drivers can keep their hands free. Since Aha was pre-loaded in almost 50 different types of vehicles, connecting with drivers through the in -dash system was an “aha-moment” for Quiznos’ marketing team.

In another example, Detroit tech company Lochbridge built location-based ad capabilities into its LAYR infotainment system. LAYR was designed to minimize driver distraction while offering personalized offers from nearby restaurants or more even useful suggestions like detecting fuel levels and searching for nearby gas stations. The practical and promotional offers that appeared on the screen were redeemable with a quick-response (QR) code that people could scan with their phones.

The automotive and marketing industries have put such an emphasis on the need for in-car messaging to be relevant and useful that some in-car marketers are finding ways to reward drivers. Kiip has taken in-car marketing to the next level in partnership with Mojio to offer rewards to consumers based on “driving moments.” PC World explains that Mojio has created a device that connects to a car’s onboard diagnostic computer and includes a companion Smartphone application. The app and connected devices monitor the driver’s performance and reward the driver. For example good driving during a torrential down pour could trigger a reward for free windshield wiper installation.

The in-car applications for marketers are just starting to come to life. Roger C. Lanctot, the Associate Director for Global Automotive Practice at Strategy Analytics, says that with companies like General Motors adding 4G to over 30 of their models as a feature, we could see the dealership or even companies like McDonalds, Exxon or Starbucks offering to pay for your 4G LTE subscription as part of their marketing campaigns. He also adds that the personalization of these campaigns will have to be sensitive to the fact that consumers share vehicles, meaning he doesn’t want to get ads for nail salons and day spas intended for his wife while using their car.

While personalization and relevancy is of concern, moreover is the concern for driver distraction and safety. Distraction-free driving is already part of automotive development, with vehicles coming pre-equipped with the SIRI Eyes-Free system and setting the tone for manufacturers to make the most of audio for drivers. Joe Laszlo, the Senior Director of the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence, says that the in-car experience is an opportunity for advertisers but the entire automotive-marketing industry is going to have to figure out the best format for offering in-dash advertisements. He predicts that audio with supplementary visual will be the biggest contender and adds that the bar for relevancy is higher with in-car advertising.  At the end of the day and most importantly he says that “No marketer in the world wants to discover their ad was responsible for a car accident.”

Murky Waters Ahead

The in-car marketing activity embraced by the industry thus far has paved the way for a rush of newcomers, but still there are likely to be some bumps in the road. Automotive News reports  that a revenue-sharing model needs to be established since turf battles are likely to form between automakers, their technology suppliers and marketers. With car manufacturers having pre-existing infotainment system partnerships and agreements, it is difficult to say who owns the data collected from the in-car experience – is it the automaker, the software company or the navigation system? With discussions of in-car transactions already taking place, the concern for consumer privacy and security is another area of concern likely to increase alongside further battles for information ownership.

Another aspect to consider is that the dynamic state of the infotainment systems and in car marketing internationally. In car marketing messages and the technology available are going to have to be tailored to different regions.

There is no doubt that as the connected car evolves alongside technology providers, it will continue to not only influence marketing trends but actually disrupt the market. Marketers have to put safety ahead of marketing agendas and reach the customer with a hands-free, eyes-free and truly useful message.

Jason Laloux
Jason is a freelance writer and marketing strategist that specializes in social media and content strategy. His work has traditionally focused on B2B products, such as web hosting and ERP solutions, but he also has a strong background in travel writing.


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