In January 2021, the annual Brussels Auto Show was canceled due to the pandemic-related restrictions on in-person events. In-person events like the auto show have always offered a special way for manufacturers and dealers to connect with car buyers and enthusiasts. However, with the cancellations, car brands and dealers have developed different ways to showcase new car models and build brand excitement.
For example, Belgium’s number-one auto distributor, D’Ieteren, and its brand partners — Porsche, Audi, Škoda, SEAT, Cupra, Volkswagen and Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles — set out to create a virtual experience in lieu of the in-person Brussels Auto Show, to provide the kind of exciting, immersive experience to match the traditional auto show.
The inventive approach to producing a virtual “auto show” is a catalyst for dealers and OEMs to change the way they interact with car buyers all year long. Showcasing vehicles virtually is an investment in an immersive online customer experience that will draw in interested shoppers and help close sales long after in-person events have safely resumed.
Will auto shows become big in-person events completely again? Or will they retain virtual elements to showcase cars to remote enthusiasts? Car manufacturers should be considering investments in technology, staff, tools and marketing to ensure success on and off the physical “showroom” floor. The traditional strategy for succeeding at an auto show includes a three-pronged approach: drive people to the booth, provide an immersive experience and connect with these customers to close the deal. The approach to a virtual auto show or engaging with online customers year-round is similar, with technology providing a twist.
Drive Customers to the “Booth” and to the Showroom
Attracting potential customers to the booth is the first step for any exhibitor at a car show. Once the customer enters the booth, they can interact with the vehicles, talk to experts and investigate available configurations. Auto companies can engage with and identify sales leads after speaking with show attendees and connect them with dealers to close a sale.
For a virtual auto show, or any time during the year, the challenge of getting customers to the booth is the same, except the “booth” in this case is the company’s website. On or off the website, they need to have their attention grabbed. Car companies use social media, digital advertising, direct marketing and other means to raise awareness and push customers to the website. Deep links to a live text or video chat can connect shoppers directly to a product expert from a social post, ad or email for a personalized experience even before they enter the “booth.”
‘WOW’ Visitors with an Immersive Experience
With the use of high-quality video, offer prompts and gamification, OEMs can grab the attention of visitors. As they move through the virtual auto show website to explore, they are prompted with offers and information to engage with a product specialist over live video chat. Once engaged, product experts provide a personalized, live tour of the featured vehicles, inside and out, using multiple cameras for a wide, 360-degree view or close-ups of interior details.
Customers can connect live with a product expert or, unlike most in-person events, can schedule a private, personalized appointment to explore car specifications in detail and ask questions. And, as at a physical event, companies can stage larger gatherings and digitally connect one-to-many live video to demonstrate cars. Car brands have used live engagement technology tools in their virtual auto show and manufacturers’ showroom to enable product experts to seamlessly hand off qualified leads to sales associates in dealerships or help the buyer schedule a test drive or tour at a convenient time.
Close the Deal with Digital Hand-holding
Two-way, high-definition video and real-time collaboration such as co-browsing are powerful tools for product experts and salespeople to showcase a vehicle. In addition to being face-to-face digitally, co-browsing tools help the sales reps guide the customer through car specifications or assist them with car configurator tools to customize their vehicle.
Sales reps can also use co-form filling to help the customer fill out documents to secure financing and close the sale. The sales team digitally holds the customer’s hand throughout the process, offering a broad range of service to help the buyer configure, finance and purchase the car of their dreams. All of this happens from the comfort of the buyer’s living room, without the need to travel to a convention center or to a car dealership.
Virtual Events Will Remain a Key Element of Auto Industry Marketing Strategy
Virtual auto shows, or elements thereof, will be a part of the marketing and sales strategies for car dealerships and OEMs long after 2021 has passed. Virtual events expand a company’s reach to people beyond those attending the show itself, allowing brands to connect with audiences all over the world. Virtual show elements allow companies to collect and track sales data more comprehensively than they could at any in-person event.
Car companies and distributors are investing in the technology to create a virtual experience and not just to address the short-term business and sales needs generated by the pandemic. Consumer behavior is changing, and brands need to be proactive and innovative to capture their interest. The technology that is designed to create a virtual auto show can also be used in everyday sales situations. This allows consumers to shop virtually for a car and still have an immersive, personalized experience that will leave them delighted and ready to close a sale on the car of their dreams.