The New Marketing – by General Motor’s Kelly Macdonald

Covid-19 has forever changed how automotive brands interact with customers, writes GM’s Kelly Macdonald

KELLY MACDONALD, chief marketing officer, General Motors Middle East & Africa

There’s no sugarcoating the challenges the automotive industry has faced globally as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, amongst the challenges we have also been presented with many opportunities and a time to reassess our marketing efforts going forward to truly drive brand purpose in these unprecedented times.

As marketers, our primary objective is to create desire and excitement and drive product demand. When faced with the global pandemic, this immediately stopped being our priority. Instead, we shifted our focus to how we could best support our customers and communities through our marketing initiatives.

We made the conscious decision that our marketing efforts needed to reflect the environment and the current realities that we were facing; therefore, from encouraging consumers to hit the roads we reversed our marketing focus to encouraging people to stay home, stay safe.

Utilising our digital platforms as our go-to medium across our GMC and Chevrolet brands, our content solely explored ways to keep entertained whilst in lockdown and keep vehicles in top condition whilst stationary.

Giving back to our communities is and has always been a priority for us. Across General Motors, we rolled out extended warranty and roadside assistance on all our vehicles, to alleviate any additional stress on our customers’ minds, allowing them to focus on staying safe at home.

Naturally, with customers spending a lot more time at home we have seen a huge spike in online shopping and the demand for convenience. While the internet has become the preferred starting point for many of our customers’ purchasing journeys, this is an area where the automotive industry has historically lagged, as the investment is significantly higher than your average online purchase.

Traditionally, when contemplating a new car purchase, the goal of automotive marketing, digital and otherwise, has always been to drive traffic to dealerships. Customers like to interact with their vehicle on-ground in a showroom, have the opportunity to speak to an expert and test-drive the vehicle before committing to the purchase.

However, Covid-19 has rapidly accelerated customer adoption of using e-commerce to buy new cars, and has changed the way people buy vehicles, maybe forever.

This is a trend we anticipate will continue, even once all movement restrictions are lifted, and we must evolve in response to consumer demand.

The good news is the supporting digital infrastructure from some manufacturers is already in place to support this consumer uplift. Back in 2017, for example, Chevrolet was the first manufacturer in the region to launch an e-commerce platform, allowing customers to shop from wherever, whenever and from whatever device. More recently, we launched ‘Shop.Click.Drive.’ for GMC and upgraded the Chevrolet offering through a partnership with Emirates NBD. We integrated end-to-end fi nancing options on both websites, providing a seamless digital experience for all.

We kick-started the year with a strong line-up across the GMC and Chevrolet portfolio, including the launch of new nameplates such as the all-new Chevrolet Captiva. The appetite for these vehicles was already high in the region, so finding a successful way for our customers to still shop with our brands was an important milestone for us.

The e-commerce tools have been instrumental in bridging this gap for consumers between researching their new vehicle and purchasing it, all from the touch of a button and from the comfort of their own home.

Whilst we are looking forward to returning to a place of relative normality, Covid-19 has forever
changed how we interact with customers. Long gone are the days of traditional marketing methods
of selling cars. Over the past few months, all our marketing initiatives were 100 per cent digital and
we will continue to explore tools and methods that reach our customers effectively, while keeping them at the heart of everything we do.

The reality is, the perception of vehicle ownership has evolved and will continue to do so. Today, customers are seeing their vehicle as more than a convenient way to travel from A to B; instead, vehicles are being perceived as a family companion and a completely secure way to travel around while remaining isolated and protected. As marketers for a manufacturer, our job is to lean into this trend and continue to create content that resonates with our customers, looking at the safety and comfort of their personal vehicle during these uncertain times.