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Car brands must apply the ‘art of conversation’ to drive greater impact

Steve Kirk shares the latest findings from consumer research conducted by M&C Saatchi TALK

Conversations have the power to change the world, to create connections and build relationships, to shape and spread culture, and to earn attention and drive action. But in order for conversations to have depth and meaning, they need to resonate with the audience.

As the automotive industry tries to keep up with rapidly changing consumer desires and expectations in the aftermath of the pandemic, it’s important to take note of what influences these wants and needs. To help uncover this, M&C Saatchi TALK recently polled consumers to find out their attitudes towards brands and their place in conversations, as well as the characteristics of conversation that make a brand more shareable, memorable and trustworthy.

Unsurprisingly, sustainability and climate change were identified as the top two most important topics of conversation within the auto sector. While there is a growing demand for more environmentally-friendly vehicles, such as EVs, there are increasing levels of uncertainty among those drivers considering buying an electric car.

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In a new era of fast-evolving digital communication, conversations are more important than ever before

This anxiety is driven by a media conversation that focuses on the slow development of charging infrastructure and concerns over the plug-in grant ending in 2023, as well as EV range and re-charging times, and the fact that 10 million UK homes don’t have access to off-street parking.

Coupled with an increasing number of new and unknown electric-only brands, it’s clear to see why many drivers are becoming overwhelmed and delaying their decision to buy an EV.

To address the uncertainty and confusion, auto brands can position themselves as experts in these conversations and act with authority, helping consumers to navigate the complex infrastructure and technology debates by providing simple advice, without jargon, that genuinely gives the audience value.

Health and wellbeing is the third ranked conversation that respondents highlighted as important to the auto category – another hot topic that consumers are talking about across a variety of channels, platforms and sectors.

This is a largely untapped conversation theme for car brands to explore further with communications, and there is great potential for storytelling based on the lifestyle benefits of the latest cars, especially new EVs, with their quieter, calmer cabins and smoother driving experience. As greater automation is introduced, interior experiences will clearly be less focused on driving and more on the comfort and wellness levels of the journey. In-cabin innovation and hi-tech driver and passenger health monitoring will lead to more opportunities for creating wellbeing content.

Conversation first, not product first

In a new era of fast-evolving digital communication, conversations are more important than ever before, as auto brands seek to reconnect with the world and re-evaluate their priorities.

There is certainly a tendency for auto brands to take a product-first approach to communications, but at any one time, the majority of consumers are not talking about specific features of cars, or performance figures or cornering ability. They’re talking about their lives and their lifestyles. About culture and entertainment, about global issues, about personal and collective challenges.

Sustainability and climate change were identified as the top two most important topics of conversation within the auto sector

To place themselves within conversations, car brands need to better understand the conversations. In a specific audience group – for example, affluent families – what is the current conversation? What resonates with that group right now? What’s the topic that matters, related to the message the brand is trying to deliver?

Brands can also be more relatable to audiences by organising themselves by lifestyle type, not by product shape or model number. Lessons can be taken from conversations that take place in search, as most people use Google in a conversational way, asking questions based on their lifestyle needs: What are the best cars for the school run? Most popular commuter cars? Biggest boot for shopping etc.

Taking time to understand what people are talking about, where and when they are talking about it, and adopting this conversation-first approach will drive greater impact for any car brand looking to earn a place in culture or develop an effective dialogue with its target audience.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.

Steve Kirk is Managing Director of Consumer M&C Saatchi Talk

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