What’s up with auto branded content marketing?


Last week I spoke at the AM Digital Dealer conference in Silverstone. This coincided with judging The Drum’s inaugural Content Awards, which includes an automotive category.

It’s an industry I’m familiar with having helped Mazda plan and execute their early viral marketing in UK and Europe, as well as working on campaigns for Ford, General Motors and Proton. And it’s one where there’s no shortage of research showing how consumer habits are changing in this space as a result of digital, particularly at the dealer sharp end. Yet despite significant investments by dealer groups in likes of improved UX, analytics and marketing automation tech there’s little to differentiate the customer experience being offered by competitors both online and in the showrooms.

Standing out in the cluttered and undifferentiated auto crowd
Some dealerships like Perry’s in the UK have been winning industry awards for standing out in the crowd digitally. They’ve made an impressive commitment to creating TV Car Show and RSA Animate-like video content, although what struck me most was that they seemed to have grasped that putting a human face to the brand might help them win hearts rather than just price-comparing minds. That might, however, be harder to quantify than any traction they get on social though.

The difficulty for dealers investing in content is they are not just competing with each other and TV Shows (e.g. Top Gear, Fifth Gear and the possible Gear Knobs successor), but also manufacturers that have deeper pockets to capture consumer attention as they innovate in the branded content and entertainment (BC&E) space. For example, BMW Films from the early 2000s was a defining moment for what has become the BC&E award category. ‘The Other Side’ campaign for Honda Civic Type R is a more recent example, which as mentioned in my recent article for The Drum would have won Grand Prix for the category at Cannes if it had been entered. And we’ve covered a number of examples in the BOBCM series over the years including: MiniFiatSkodaVolvoNissanMini, etc.

There’s only so much you can do in a 20 minute presentation, but – given the dealer audience, digital focus and market context I’ve just outlined above – here’s some pointers I gave about what they need to be thinking about strategically:

Defining branded content is like nailing jelly to a table
As BBDO Worldwide’s Chief Creative Officer David Lubars mentioned in my recent article for The Drum, we’re looking at something that transcends category:

“It’s a hard category to define, and one that is inherently messy and foggy with no clear horizons because it’s horizontal.”

In short, we’re talking about the future of marketing!

Content now just part of what marketing is and how it’s done
Content-based marketing is now ubiquitous, which means…

  • No one size fits all for client challenges
  • No one supplier has all the answers
  • Days of generic content specialist are numbered as industry begins to fracture and divide into more specialist areas

Common considerations
It’s basically all about content creation, engagement, distribution and how you measure it, which I’ve written about in BOBCM Vol II and Sandra Freisinger-Heinl has written about more recently in the latest edition of the series.

branded content strategy


But the point I really wanted to hammer home, is one made by Dave Chaffey at Smart Insights about how content and social media marketing have become the de facto way of explaining customer engagement approaches and how it’s “unfortunate” that these are too often considered separately:

“I often hear the cry “We need a social media strategy” when what is really needed first is a customer engagement strategy based on content.”

Digging Deeper with Path-To-Purchase

There’s much talk of the Customer Decision Journey and Path-To-Purchase in the auto industry. But as my Tenthwave colleague Ben Zeidler points out, much of the research to date has limitations including:

  • Treating all purchases as equal
    such as, cost and size considerations
  • Treating all influences as equal
    i.e. brand marketing versus reviews, personal recommendation, etc
  • Not having comprehensive list of drivers
    i.e. Off, as well as online
  • Customers don’t think in the language marketers do
    Terms like discover, explore, buy and engage miss the mark when used in surveys

Ben has been spearheading research with partners around the world that is digging deeper and provides a few areas of differentiation against similar studies conducted in the past. It’s due to be published soon, but I gave a sneak peak of some of the auto industry findings:

The decision-making process begins and ends at home

  • 77% of UK car buyers initially discovered the car they ended up purchasing due to a digital source of some kind
  • 52% of UK car buyers considered multiple brands to be an option before picking and purchasing one
  • 52% make their final decision at home, not dealer, work, pub, etc

Short window of opportunity
Discover > Learn more > Buy

  • Time between discovery and purchase was a month or less for 85% of buyers
  • 69% buy in less than a week from making decision
  • 51% based final decision on price, but urgency and necessity are other major factors
  • 55% made purchase because they needed replacement

Key take Away:
Dealers need to tune into customer urgency, nurture a digital relationship early in their  journey, and always be on to react quickly and keep conversation in play.

It’s going to be all about the customer experience
It’s interesting to see car dealers jumping on the brand publishing bandwagon, but I can’t help think they need to heed the warning from Ogilvy Group UK’s Vice Chairman Rory Sutherland in my article for Contagious last year:

Brands need to be realistic about competing with content creators, unless they’re prepared to risk allocating budget that could result in failure.

As he points out, the Hollywood system is an example of a few successes bankrolling a large number of duds and also-rans.

That’s why I highlighted advice from loyalty guru Peter Shankman who explains that the customer space has never before had such a great impact on the ability of brands to bring in or lose customers:

It’s not going to be about advertising, not marketing, but the customer experience !

In my recent Like Minds interview with Peter, he recommends that brands need to become obsessed with customer-experience, which includes:

  • making things easier for them
  • implementing little changes that make a big impact on their experience
  • simply hiring people who help show that brands actually care.

That may not help brands become the kind of Significant ones that Salesforce’s Jeremy Waite talks about, but it does form part of the Survival to Significance journey he plots to becoming one and is certainly part of what it now takes to make a brand successful.

Going beyond customer-centricity to become customer obsessed
But if brands are really going to offer more authentic, relevant and personal customer experiences then they need to go beyond the desk and dashboard because as my Tenthwave colleague Drew Rayman points out:

Big data might help you to understand the ‘where’ and ‘when’, but it’s unlikely to show you the ‘why’

Using Thick Data for creative spark that gives you cars not faster horses
What I hoped to do with my slides about Customer Experience was to get the dealers to think about those experiences as content.  The idea is based on a recommendation by content marketing guru Ann Handley in the BOBCM Expert Examples series, about finding a mechanism that allows brands to collect customer stories at scale.

This is what we helped our client Duncan Hines achieve, and here’s how we found the insight that informed our solution and the results:

There’s lots of data that shows that bakers look at recipes online (probably because they’re more interesting than an About page), but digging deeper through ethnographic research we found Thick Data insights about what they really really want, such as show they care, express their love and lots and lots of inspiration.

Driving social sharing
The multiple-award winning Pinterest-style responsive website solution with predictive search provides bakers with inspiration, and a platform to share their ideas that encourages them to bake more:


We gave them the Inspiration they wanted & the results were delicious
The results speak for themselves:

  • User Generated Content now accounts for over 80% of all content and is growing
  • Average visit length jumped 50% and continues to rise as do visitor numbers
  • Digital community tripled in just 20 months and is now close to 2 million
  • Rated the most engaged FMCG brand on Facebook in 2015 (close to double engagement of fan leader Coca Cola who has 8X the following)
  • Blew away category benchmarks with 21x the average social interactions
  • 5 social recommendations received for every penny spent in social
  • 12x ROAS shown by independent research from Facebook and Datalogix
  • Parent company named NASDAQ “Bull of Day” citing Social Media effectiveness as primary reason

Check out comparative experiences not just your competitors

The reason for presenting a case study about a baking brand to auto dealers is because becoming obsessed about customer experience requires looking beyond what your competitors offer for inspiration, i.e. consumer comparative experiences. Hence the quote from TUI Travel PLC’s CIO/CTO ‬Mittu Sridhara:

Your best experience is your best experience and it doesn’t matter whether that’s in travel or if it happened in a shop, or it happened on a web site. We’re continually scanning the market for what good looks like.

Highlighting inspiring examples and thinking is our mission at BOBCM, and we hope you enjoy those we’ve included in our latest German, Austrian and Swiss edition that includes case studies from MiniFiatSkoda. Vol III of our International Edition will be published later this year, but in the meantime come and join us in the BOBCM LinkedIn Group.