Why Car Brands In India Need To Get Their Communication Strategies Right!
The role that the communication strategy plays for a car brand is of increasing importance in today's day and age. If you were to rewind back to 20 - 25 years ago, brands only had the option of advertising on television, placing a radio ad or a jingle or publishing a nice big advertisement in a newspaper and magazine. The internet was at a nascent stage and nobody really knew where it would go at the time, so spends on that front were minuscule if any. Car companies launched new products, advertised and then waited for the sales ticker to churn. It was all about creating an effective advertisement that really got the message across to the reader / viewer. Creative commercials were a big draw and this essentially was the name of the game. To create a slightly stronger impact, car companies also paid good money to get mileage through PR campaigns and have their brand or product strategically 'placed' in an article. But that was before the Internet boom and communication was a one way street. A disgruntled customer really didn't have much choice back then and at maximum could try and mail a letter to the company or work really hard at getting enough momentum going and push the story to get on a news channel or in a paper. Think about it, a customer really didn't have a voice and therefore was driven to go with the 'popular' choice.
Today, this very world has flipped on its head. Car brands no longer have the only say in what they offer. Thanks to the rise of social media, the customer now has a very strong voice. Add to that, websites are able to offer the reach that conventional media can only dream of. A car company cannot get by on a good review in a trade publication or an advertisement on television. Sure, they do their bit to spread the word that a new product is out in the market, but in terms of driving sales, the conventional form of media just doesn't deliver those results anymore. Despite this change, car companies in India still continue to bark up the wrong tree and hope to win the battle by turning to older media forms. Yes, television and newspapers might be holding on to a respectable audience in India (although numbers are falling each year), however some of the websites have a far wider audience than both combined. Yet car companies here choose to go with the former when it comes to reaching out as part of their communication strategies. Such is the case that a trade magazine which has a claimed print circulation of just 20,000 copies (in a land of 1.2 billion people) gets the first invite to review and test a new product instead of a website that has a reach of over 9 million pageviews with an average story reach of 30,000 views! It is a clear sign that things are wrong and those who are sitting at the helm of affairs and planning the strategy aren't looking at doing what is obvious, but are more concerned about pleasing their bosses with 'coverage' in print. The same applies to television. Viewership is falling at a drastic rate, while YouTube consumption is at an all-time high, yet the TV channel is considered 'better' for coverage. What is even more staggering is the fact that most of these companies are global players such as BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Renault and Ford and internationally they are actively embracing the digital age, yet the Indian operations don't!
Keeping all this in mind, one tends to wonder as to what is really an effective communication strategy for car brands in India. The format of communication has changed, yet the brands are still at an experimental stage - that too grudgingly. Having said that, there might not be a direct formula to success on this front, however what car brands really need to look into is defining their strategy based on eyeballs rather than just going with an age-old tradition of placing their bets on traditional media to deliver wonders. The idea should be to reach out to a maximum audience and this can only be achieved through a fresh strategy that is heavily dependent on digital formats. In fact, the strategy should properly define how each element of the digital outreach program will be properly utilized in order to create a large impact on a very large reader/ viewer population.
Luckily digital media is also riding the wave of smart technologies - the largest being the smartphone. With smartphone penetration growing at a blistering pace and making inroads to tier 2 and tier 3 cities as well, the ability to reach out is actually rather easy. Smartphones have also allowed different digital platforms to converge on a single device so effectively you have Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and access to a billion websites right at your fingertips. Publisher apps have also gained massive acceptance and this too is available on your smartphone. It is easier to get a news update through a Facebook notification than it is to flip through a newspaper. I like to call this convergence of digital media - convenient media. It's all the news you ever need right at your fingertips -information from publishers, views of individual users, great images, opinions - everything right there in one place!
It might look overwhelming at first, however an effective campaign can be designed using only the tools that convenient media offers - whether it is a product review or an advertising campaign tailored for each format, the message is more effectively shared and thus reaches out to a wider audience. Further to that, digital media offers the ability to interact in real time. This is a feature that car brands really need to expedite. Talking to the customer and getting real time feedback is truly what effective communication is all about and digital platforms allow for this.
On a parting note, it is important to remember that India has a really young population and their first choice of media is to go for something digital. Take a survey and ask a youngster where they get their news from and they will most likely laugh at you if you even mention newspapers as a choice! That is the ground reality.
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