Pallavi Singh
Guest Article

BMW's marketing head on five digital transformation trends to watch out for

Digital transformation and marketing in the Post-COVID Reality (PCR) ...

By now most of us are experiencing what I like to call, Corona Fatigue. Lots has and continues to be written about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on various facets of life, business, work etc. All angles are being examined, theorized and dissected as leaders, commentators and well-meaning futurists try to get a grip on how the world may shift and change. The fact that life won’t remain that same, is a given. What we are now trying to determine are the rules of engagement in the Post-COVID Reality (PCR).

Over the last few weeks, I too have been wrestling with ideas and thoughts on PCR and its impact on marketing. Since the dawn of civilization, there have been sellers and buyers – therefore by extension there has always been a version of marketing or its underlying fundamentals. Marketing has grown up, refined, changed and evolved in reaction to the ebbs and flows of human history, crises and opportunities. It has seen the rise and fall of nations, the dark ages, two world wars and even the underwhelming ending of The Game of Thrones series. It will evolve and thrive in PCR as well.

While there may be many notable changes, based on trends and evidence which has already started piling up, there are five major areas and trends which will see notable developments in marketing, especially as it leads to digital mediums and digital transformation.

(1) Data will create competitive advantage

To be clear, for most forward-looking organizations and brands, data has been a competitive edge and differentiator for a long time now. Over the decades, the focus has shifted from acquiring data via surveys, questionnaires and other traditional methods to the more direct, extensive and multi-dimensional data generated via a multitude of channels. This data is often called Alternative Data and is a combination of data called from Social Media, Location Data, Customer Interactions, Sentiment Analysis, Satellite Images, 3D maps, Profile proxy inputs, digital engagement via eyeball tracking and a whole host of other direct, indirect and proxy signals which are being created by customers – new, existing and potential in massive amounts. The auto sector and marketers need to tap into these vast lakes of data and derive meaningful insights to ensure that they tap into latent opportunities and ward off potential crises.

(2) Customer preferences and behavior towards in-person interactions will shift

We all know of the concept of high and low context culture, defined based on how vigorous and extensive interactions may be considered normal between individuals. Most Asian cultures are high context and hence in the past, the auto industry has had to invest and engage heavily in managing in-person, on-call etc. interactions with potential customers so that conversions may take place. In the age of PCR, this will shift as most customers would prefer to allocate time, space and money to interactions which may not be the same anymore. Hence, website, app, calls and demos via video conferencing, which has been considered of tertiary importance and novelty, will see a big upsurge. In fact, such digital adoption & transformation was already happening – this will now just get accelerated. Marketers may have to reassign focus from in-showroom to in-screen.

(3) Hygiene, health and cleanliness will become a feature

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is actually more challenging for marketers in the auto-industry to reliably figure out in practical terms. Ideally, customers and clients may expect hygiene, cleanliness and other facets to have always been an intrinsic part of product offerings. Aggressive or pointed positioning of these factors may actually backfire, and this seems counter-intuitive. A good case study of this are fast food restaurants and hotels, which often tout their record in hygiene, without really making it central to the brand or the product. Why? Because, this may not align well with other brand values – fun, taste, experience, thrill etc. For auto marketers, each brand and product may need to tread a fine line, because while customers may outline a need to see this as a feature, but this may not be the overarching theme towards the buying consideration.

(4) Digital consumption will grow

One of the silver linings from this period, which will move seamlessly in the PCR world is the massive growth of internet usage and digital content consumption. Thanks to over a decade of investments, innovation and growing demand, Indians have taken to internet, telecom and digital consumption like fish to water. Indians are spending an average of 320 minutes a day consuming media across platforms, up from 270 minutes in 2013. By 2021, it is estimated that the average consumer will spend 348 minutes a day consuming media. However, these estimated were pre-coronavirus, because since the lockdown, social media usage has grown a whopping 87 per cent wherein most Indians now spend over four hours on Social media platforms. With these numbers, it may now be clear that not only would marketers need to have a good digital strategy, they would need to be digital led or digital native because that’s where the customers are going to be. Hence, marketing functions will need to accelerate their digital transformation plans.

(5) Events will need to be reimagined

Experiential events, conferences, music festivals have been a main stay for many car and auto manufacturers across the world and for a long time. Extensive value was derived from investing in these events in an age where customer, media, enthusiasts and the general population would be introduced to products in the right environment and the right settings. This fed into the over all brand positioning of these products while also driving aspirational value. With the pandemic and the digital reality of our world, this too will shift and change. To be sure, events will not disappear, not for the long term anyway but they will need to be reimagined along more modern, progressive and digitally enabled lines. Think of the depressed circus acts and how Cirque du Soleil reimagined this to be come a global powerhouse. Event will be increasingly hybrid in nature, with strong offline and online components – both able to stand on their own legs in terms of content, positioning and reach.

Marketing channels and delivery is going to change fundamentally, but the fundamentals of marketing are probably going to remain the same. The Post COVID Reality of marketing is based on digital transformation in the short term and being digital native in the long term.

(The author is marketing director, BMW India. This article was first published on her LinkedIn page; reproduced with permission.)