For automakers, the driving experience is no longer just about getting from point A to point B. Automakers like General Motors are increasingly thinking like digital marketers as the company consolidates customer data and marketing operations to deliver targeted offers to drivers and passengers.
After retail, the auto industry is the second largest digital ad spender in the U.S., according to eMarketer. The research firm predicts digital ad spending by automakers will reach $12.1 billion by 2019, up from $7.3 billion last year and represent 13.2 percent of U.S. digital ad spending. The rise in digital ad spending is unsurprising given consumers' increasing dependence on digital devices and real-time information.
Rick Ruskin, marketing lead of the global connected consumer for General Motors' OnStar service, demonstrated GM's response to the consumer's shift to digital dependence. At a recent Salesforce Connections conference, he demonstrated the mobile media platform the auto manufacturer launched last year along with the OnStar AtYourService commerce platform. During the demo, he sat in a parked GMC Acadia that served as a makeshift conference room and pointed to his phone and the car's dashboard screen, which both showed sponsored offers from Exxon Mobile and Dunkin' Donuts.
The ads were offered as part of OnStar, a GM-operated subscription service that provides in-vehicle navigation and customer support in GM vehicles. OnStar's mobile app, RemoteLink, lets users activate OnStar functions without calling the contact center first. And in 2015, GM rolled out AtYourService, a platform that delivers targeted offers to drivers using RemoteLink.
The offers are based on a variety of data including the car owner's gender, age, household income level, location, car model, time of day, and weather. "If, for example, you were driving to work and had opted into receiving messages, you might get an offer for a $.99 coffee from a nearby Dunkin' Donuts and when you're on your way home, you'll get an offer from Albertsons for dinner," Ruskin explained.
If the car is running low on fuel, diagnostic information like that could also trigger a coupon from Exxon-Mobile. The media is direct-sold and advertising partners must be approved before joining the OnStar system, although the company is considering opportunities to sell the ad units programmatically.
Ruskin, however, insists AtYourService is more than an ad platform. "Our goal is not to sell as many ads as possible," he said. "Our goal is to provide value to our customers." As such, the campaigns fall under categories that drivers are likely to look for like hotels, dining, parking, retail, fuel, and dealers. Besides Dunkin' Donuts and Exxon-Mobile, OnStar's advertising partners include Groupon, Priceline, RetailMeNot, and Entertainment Book.
In addition to adding more merchant partners to its platform, GM is working on streamlining its customer data and operations to provide more relevant offers through connected customer journeys. Earlier this year, the company implemented Salesforce's Marketing Cloud as part of these efforts. The Marketing Cloud integrates into the company's other datasets such as data in its Community Cloud for merchants and its Sales and Service clouds.
For example, marketers can use Journey Builder within the Marketing Cloud to map out and set rules for the different stages an OnStar customer typically goes through from acquisition to onboarding to maintenance. And when sending an offer to a driver, the company can tie in information that it may have about the customer's communication preferences and whether the customer has already redeemed similar offers, among other data points. OnStar wants to make it easy for advertisers to create offers for its system, so it also has a portal where brands can build out their campaigns by plugging in the start date, end date, location, and various segmentation parameters.
And down the road, a connected car could provide drivers with even more benefits beyond targeted offers. "Your car could potentially become a trigger for a lot of amazing things from turning on the thermostat and the lights when you're heading home," Ruskin notes. "We have a platform that could be capable of things like that and more, but we're taking careful steps to get there."