ZeroLight’s recently-recruited chief growth officer, Eva Poppe, has joined the automotive marketing technology company from the gaming industry.
Here she explains how the importance of real-time CGI technology to help ‘gamify’ motorists digital buying journeys against a backdrop of omnichannel car buying journeys and agency model retail.
You’ve joined ZeroLight from Unity Technologies – what do you think auto retail can learn from the gaming industry?
Essentially our lives are becoming more like well-designed games, where we have an active role in an epic adventure. We are already seeing this in the automotive space, with people spending more time with the most realistic and interactive car configurators. There’s a reason why a quarter of the global population play video games, and the racing simulation genre remains one of the most popular. We’re looking to bring more of this fun and interaction into configurators and other virtual and augmented reality experiences, to create memorable moments and forge an emotional bond between person, product and brand.
What emerging technologies and/or virtual experiences excite you most?
I am a massive fan of virtual reality (VR) because of the magic it offers. Its potential is limitless if we let our creativity go with it. In a VR experience, for instance, your brain believes that you’re in the environment by stimulating all the senses – and I mean all the senses, not just visual. The best VR experience will also include the smell of a new interior, or the wind rushing through your hair in a soft top. You can create a range of emotions that you want people to feel – emotions that are influenced by how your brain and senses respond to stimulating experiences.
Will car manufacturers ever be able to build communities around their brands, like other non-auto brands have successfully done?
They will have to. The pandemic has shown that we’re social animals at heart, and our instincts draw us towards being part of a community. When you consider what makes a strong community, it’s the sense of purpose and identification with a certain lifestyle. Tesla has transcended being a mere car brand by building its community. Being a Tesla owner has become an experience, a way of life. In the same way that Apple changed our relationship with a smartphone, Tesla has developed a very unique relationship with its public. This community, which includes a broad range of people, from high-Income individuals to people who can’t afford a Model 3, is the envy of the entire car industry.
How can car brands start building this community?
It’s about romancing the customer. Remember that moment you first fell in love? Something clicked with that special someone, and suddenly you wanted to know everything about them, and you were willing to do just about anything to get a few extra minutes together. Most brands would love to recreate that. They can start by being part of customers’ lives beyond the practicalities of the day-to-day, and also in moments of joy, fun and laughter. This takes us back to the gaming piece. All the big car brands are working in partnership with gaming companies. They have their cars featured in certain games to gain a competitive edge and boost their visibility. Gran Turismo 7 in its current form features 428 cars. This has had a great impact on real-world sales and brand loyalty. A physical store still has an important role to play in building these communities. We need to revaluate and evolve the current dealer destination into neighbourhood experience centres. They should be attractive places where people come to learn and experience something new throughout their life with a vehicle and feel rewarded for their visit.
Tell us more about the role of the ‘car dealer’ in the future? Is it time we killed off the term ‘dealer’?
The term ‘dealer’ is certainly already outdated when it comes to new cars. Even for the used market you are starting to see a shift. That certainly doesn’t mean physical stores will disappear, but they will take on a different role and shape. Several brands, including Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, and Stellantis, have announced a change from the traditional dealership model to an agency model for some or part of their retail process to pursue closer relationships with customers and offer an omnichannel sales journey. It’s vital for the legacy carmakers to make the leap and re-establish themselves in this new customer-buying journey and beyond. But this isn’t about installing an ‘online only’ model. The new form of dealerships or ‘agencies’ will be neighbourhood experience centres with a mixture of physical and digital spaces. A true omnichannel approach presents challenges to both carmaker and retailer. But, done in the right way, it will offer a mutually beneficial future for both of them, while giving car buyers exactly what they want, how and when they want it.
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