Back in the early 2010s, I was at Edelman, heading the India business for the digital arm, Edelman Digital. One of our early client wins was Chevrolet India (General Motors India). Given how new and raw social media was in 2010, from a business/corporate use point of view, more than just end-user point of view, both the client and us, the agency, were learning about the possibilities of what can be done.
We did the usual roster of activities of course – regular content planning/sharing, social CRM and the likes. Due to a paucity of tools for doing things like social CRM, a lot of the processes were manual and we were innovating on the fly on things like monitoring, research, measurement and reporting.
At one point, the client wanted to do something more. We had then presented a plan, that in hindsight, could be seen beyond social/digital marketing, and as a digital transformation strategy.
The idea was to aid Chevrolet India to go digital in as many customer touch points as possible. So, the plan was to aid in product discovery in Chevrolet’s own media – their website and a custom-front page on Facebook brand page.
What was to be the content? It was the following:
- Aiding discovery: a complete menu of all their cars, with all color variants and full details on each vehicle/variant, including a 3D interactive view of the vehicle
- Aiding consideration: curated (aided) reviews from existing users, categorized by cities/States, so that in the Facebook product page, the reviews for any particular vehicle/model would be automatically shown based on which city/State the user is logging in (in her Facebook account) from, to bring in some level of affinity. To get reviews, we had envisaged a process that involves dealers reaching out to new buyers (given that new owners are more likely to have positive things to say) within a 30 day period of their purchase, and ask a specific set of questions on video, or to create a text-based interview.
- Aiding decision-making, part 1: a curated snapshot of positive Chevrolet mentions on social media platforms and online forums (there were tons back then, for automobiles as a category)
- Aiding decision-making part 2: a curated set of professional reviews of the vehicle
The idea is that people land up (either on social/Facebook or the brand page), select one vehicle and are shown a combined view of what the brand has to say about it and what ‘people’ are saying about (both curated to aid the brand, of course) that particular vehicle and model.
All these were driven towards a single call-to-action – ask for a test drive! The test drive the only offline action we wanted a potential customer to land up at a showroom for, after having convinced themselves that the time spent on the test drive has been well thought-through. Till that point, we wanted to guide them towards making the decision.
The plan was approved, some advance paid to a vendor, but then it did not materialize, back in 2011. I quit in 2012 and General Motors India too was going through a difficult period (and eventually quit India in 2017).
Cut to a pandemic-infested 2021. Maruti-Suzuki recently announced that they have digitized 24 out of 26 car buying touchpoints and had mentioned that there are only 2 left that cannot be digitized – test drive and delivery!
It’s a fantastic move by the market leader from an industry’s digital evolution and transformation point of view and seeing that chart in The Financial Express (May 24, 2021) brought back a wave of memories of how we had conceived an early version of this overall idea, within the several constraints we had back then including the largest one being the very rudimentary evolution of the internet in those early days.
The pandemic has only hastened this digital transformation for automobile brands. Barring a test drive and delivery, everything else can be availed by the potential buyers digitally. And if an automobile brand is not prepared for this sweeping change and expectation from customers, then they would not even make it to a shortlist, which is what marketing can lead a customer towards.