Thought Leadership
  • Content marketing

Content and cars: where it all goes wrong

Stephen Hobbs
25th May 2017

Why car content is only telling half the story…

As a confirmed petrolhead and recent car buyer, I feel like I’m recently (if not uniquely) qualified to talk about the car buying journey.

I’d narrowed my choice down to two potential candidates over several months and, in digital terms, there was very little in it. There was plenty of third-party content for both to support my car-buying hunches. There were solid, text-based reviews from established names, there were YouTube reviews from big-name influencers, and there were plenty of images of both to drool over.

One thing notably lacking, though, was branded content. Or at least none that surfaced through the usual channels.

Still, the sale had been made online and I headed to the dealership to pull the trigger and make the deal. But when I got there, I had the following exchange:


As a snapshot of the potential ownership experience, my 15 minutes in the showroom was a disaster. So I bought my second choice car after what was, thankfully, a near-seamless showroom experience.

And that chimes with a stat from Deloitte’s The Future of Auto Retailing report:

The point is that you can control the consumer experience (although admittedly few do this well) all the way up to the dealership exchange and then you can control it from purchase all the way through the key ownership touchpoints to the next purchase. So it’s about optimising that experience, it’s about serving people contextual content, and it’s also about giving dealers the toolkit to ensure their own content is 'on message'.

Learning luxury lessons

So what can car companies learn from other sectors? The luxury fashion sector faces many of the same challenges, specifically where digital and real worlds collide.

Burberry's Christopher Bailey says, “I don’t really distinguish too much between the virtual world and the physical world. In the end, whether we are doing something in the store or online, they have to work hand-in-hand."

Check out Burberry's Art of the Trench from way back in content marketing prehistory (2009) to see how ahead of the curve it was (and is) for a luxury fashion brand. It's a glorious piece of UGC, framed by the brand and made its own. Today, the mantra is the same as it was back in 2006 when it committed to embracing digital across all of its marketing activities: treat people the same way, whether they're in-store, online or on mobile.

Burberry was quick to jump on the Snapchat bandwagon

Car manufacturers may not have the same level of control over their physical sales outlets, but they can still learn a thing or two from Burberry's approach, giving in-store staff the ability to access the digital world from the physical one and mirror the pre- and post-car buying online experience in-store.

Treat people the same way, whether they're in-store, online or on mobile

Automotive brands are generally slow to experiment with new social channels, Burberry dove head-first into Instagram video ads, Periscope and Twitter buy buttons before many of us even knew they existed. The murky world of Snapchat isn't taboo for Burberry, either, fully embracing the 'insider' element of the platform to launch teasers from its latest range before they were released anywhere else.

You rarely see luxury car brands innovating like that.

Digital into analogue: the car buying process

Of course, a number of startups have tried to remedy the showroom conundrum with a fully digital purchasing experience – the only 'analogue' element being the point the car is delivered on a flatbed truck – the ill-fated Beepi being one example. There are others of course, such as Carvana, and the less disruptive Auto1, but all of them focus on the used market.

So let’s look at what happens immediately before that showroom visit: the car configurator. The car configurator, is the ultimate tool in the car manufacturers’ arsenal. It’s free content. And better still, it’s personalised content. It’s UGC on a grand scale. It’s near perfect.

And talking of near-perfect car configurators… this masterpiece for the R8 from Audi is one of the finest we’ve ever seen.

alt's brilliant R8 configuration page

But given that most brands have entire teams dedicated to the configurator, there’s a big piece of the puzzle missing: most people don’t share their dream vehicles and that’s often because it’s so difficult to do so. Most configurations default to emailing the car to a third-party, or just saving it within the configurator to be recalled at the dealer later. Very few of them actively encourage you to share your designs via social media.

Manufacturers rarely share their dream configurations, either. There’s no sense that this is a two-way content street where car companies are as excited about tricking out their flagship model as the consumer is.

And, of course, if you can get people to configure and save a car, you can likely get them to hand over some personal details. Now you can start delivering the kind of content that will make the sale over the following weeks and months before many of them feel ready to make the leap from online browsing to active purchasing.

Post purchase - where the opportunity is

And if you can get past the showroom experience – which most luxury brands do this better than most – then there’s another issue. Depending on how you’ve bought your car – and let’s assume that the only sales we’re counting here are new or delivery miles vehicles – you’ll likely have a wait on your hands before you can get hold of it. That will range from, say, a few days to a few months for high-end, luxury cars. So what do you do in the interim days, weeks and months? You suffer from buyer’s remorse, that’s what.

Consider the below timeline. This is the genuine car buying experience of someone close to Mediablaze, who shall remain nameless (or more accurately, shall be named ‘Rob’).


Ultimately he had too much time to contemplate his purchase, was already feeling unsure when he received the car, and then had zero branded content with which to reassure him that he’d done the right thing. He began to feel that the car was an impractical luxury, a symbol of excess – and the brand did nothing to tell him otherwise – he sent the car back within a couple of weeks.

What’s required is a content journey that’s mapped from initial contact to purchase, all the way through the first year and beyond, with key content milestones plotted against the ownership experience. Consider that a new car purchase is likely to be on a one- to three-year cycle and you can easily begin to create the Holy Grail of content: serving the right content to the right person at the right time.

For example, six month’s down the line and I want to buy a bike rack for my new(ish) car. Given the nature of the car I’ve bought, that should be a rich seam to mine with some targeted content.

Instead, I spent a huge amount of time reading through forums, asking the bike-savvy guys and girls in the office, and checking reviews online. If I could have had a brand recommendation, or a number of recommendations, then I’d have saved a lot of time and effort, and felt as if the brand I’ve invested such a large sum of money in has my back over my time with the car.

If you can do that, once you’ve built that rapport during the car buying and ownership cycle, then when it comes to new-car-time you’ll still be front-of-mind.

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