Allow me to be the first to welcome you to the twenty-first century—a world filled with partially-hydrogenated soybean oil and small personal computers that fit in your pocket. The planet has been enveloped by wireless networks, allowing everyone to be connected via their PCs or mobile devices. Now you probably weren’t born under a rock and are more than aware of how social networking works, and how it has become a staple in modern day society.
Technology has evolved so much that it has allowed information and communication to be accessed with a keystroke. Before Google, we had books; before Facebook, we had bulletin boards. It is unfortunately clear now that we as a society have almost lost our taste for organic human interaction. What’s the point of making a homemade birthday card for your cousin in Europe when you could just send them a tweet from your iPhone? It’s an uneasy truth to come to terms with, but it is the truth nonetheless.
Social networking rants aside, there is a plus to having the whole world connected under one bubble. As of 2012, two billion users were on the internet. It can be argued that having a world of information at your finger tips could be both beneficial and harmful to society. Whether you approve or not, that’s the way it is.
With all this information at their fingertips, people are more knowledgeable than ever before about their interests and other daily aspects of life. In laymen’s terms, we know what we want and we know all about it, and this is a problem for the auto industry.
The automotive industry may seem to be producing more robots than cars lately, but its business strategy continues to be fairly old-fashioned: the “Brick and Mortar” approach, if you will. Before the internet, selling a car was all about the trusted relationship between the salesman and the customer. As a customer, you relied solely on the knowledge of the salesman to help you determine which vehicle was best for you. This concept was so set-in-stone that no one believed there was room for improvement. Then there was the internet, that glorious series of tubes that delivers us whatever information we ask for in seconds, and it’s only getting easier and more accessible as time goes on.
Checking your email has become as routine as taking out the trash, if not more so. Google is not only a name, it has also become a verb. Back in the day, information was acquired through studying or even going to the library. Now, we just “google it.” Furthermore, because of this technological simplicity, the customer is now a fully knowledgeable user in whatever they’re interested in. Nowadays, someone who walks into a car dealership already knows what they want; they spent the prior evening online looking up all the details they need to know. The salesman’s knowledge and expertise is now useless, his influence and bargaining power is moot; they’re basically there just to make sure the customer doesn’t steal air-fresheners during test drives.
This definitely isn’t news to the auto industry. Social networking is the new mode of advertisement. With 800 million people using Facebook monthly, it would be a mistake to not tap into that market. Auto dealers understand the infinite potential that is the internet, and in an attempt to increase their visibility in the online arena, most car dealers are already using Facebook.
Consumers are relying much more on social media to influence their decisions. Everything from a vehicle’s make, model, dealership, and third-party neon under-glow kits are influenced by social media. There is a fine line, however, between using social media to your company’s advantage, and tastelessly using it to advertise your product. The modern consumer has grown quite frustrated with the generic commercial formula—look how awesome this product is, if you don’t buy it, you will die. Not exactly convincing, however, businesses have relied heavily on this formula. While it does work to a point, there is a serious lack of engagement between the consumer and company when using this in-your-face approach.
The numbers don’t look too good either. According to hubspot.com, a mere 1.3 percent of users on Facebook actually engage with the businesses they are fans of. Meaning, a user may be a fan of a certain company, but that’s where it ends. Fan loyalty is nice, but it ultimately does not lead to increased revenue. There has to be a way for fans and customers alike to engage with businesses in an intuitive and, dare I say, fun way.
One interesting thing I’ve seen dealers using is Flashfoto, inc (www.flashfotoinc.com/automotive). Flashfoto has helped Lexus of Stevens Creek increase their online social engagement rate by 40 percent, which is unheard of in auto marketing. Their patented background removal (www. lexus.flashfotoinc.com) and face detection technology allowed us to build an online application that puts an image of the customer into a photo of the car of their choice. This marketing strategy allows a user to engage in their favorite product on their own time, and by seamlessly sharing their photos and information with their friends on Facebook. It’s simple, it’s fun, and it works. Another Hubspot.com stat suggests that photos shared on Facebook receive 53 percent more ‘Likes’ and 104 percent more comments than any other generic posting. “ooh pretty colors” *click.
Aaron Markham was heavily involved with GE’s Global Research Center in upstate NY and Thomson’s Advanced Technology Group in Renne, France. Then he became head of R&D for BayTSP. In 2011, the company was acquired and Acuity Ventures asked him to run one of their other portfolio companies, Flashfoto.0