The Car As A Marketing Tool

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After attending the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, there wasn’t much I was impressed with (other than the sheer mass of people who attended). I guess it’s because I read so much about technology, and I knew most of the stuff that was coming. However, I attended a press conference for Pioneer, which hasn’t been on my radar much if at all, and I was impressed with what they are doing and saw the potential for both businesses and consumers with their in-car technology.

Instead of seeing billboards on the side of the freeway, imagine having them in your car, broadcast to you through your stereo system. Pioneer has developed two new devices, the AVIC-Z130BT and AVIC-X930BT 2011 in-dash navigation systems, that can display social networking sites and allow users to engage with them without using their hands. The system reads updates and other relevant text to the passenger and driver, and accepts voice commands for finding just about anything! This not only keeps people in constant contact with their friends and relatives, but it also means that social networking may finally have hit upon a way to generate billions of dollars in advertising by seizing on a roving, yet captive audience: drivers.

Part of the potential bonanza is owed to the twin forces of geo-location and companies that purposefully collect data on discounts, coupons, and other local business specials. If a driver whose Facebook profile indicates that he enjoys martinis happens to be passing within ten miles of a bar with a special Tuesday afternoon happy hour, with the use of geo-location and an updated profile of the bar’s specials, the system could quickly identify the driver’s coordinates and inform him of the triple olive special.

However, this technology works both ways. Businesses could start sampling the profiles of passers-by, and begin to tailor their menus or services to suit the needs of those who are in the area. Because the information is essentially public — Facebook users can specify the degree of privacy about their likes and dislikes using their privacy controls — businesses could begin paying services that collect data about social networking users in order to customize their product line. The business of ‘tracking’ potential customers based on their driving habits could become an extremely lucrative one. If 200 potential doughnut customers are located within a mile of your business every morning around 8:30am, it becomes much easier to anticipate how to order supplies in order to satisfy busy periods and not overstock during slow ones by using the data collected by Yelp, Facebook, Twitter or Foursquare. Similarly, businesses can better anticipate heavy seasonal demand based on their customer’s travel habits.

In many ways, the Pioneer system is an advanced version of what many supermarkets have been doing for years. By giving customers ‘reward’ cards that offer them discounts, stores have been able to track what purchases customers make on a daily, weekly, and yearly basis. They are able to stock their shelves with almost exactly the number of items that customers will buy, thereby eliminating waste. By tracking price points, the supermarkets also understand what goods will sell at what price, thereby eliminating overpriced or underpriced products. All in all, most shoppers have benefited from this policy. Suppliers have had to become savvier about marketing and the products they produce; simply manufacturing in bulk is no longer the ideal strategy to attract the most shoppers. Shoppers have particular tastes and preferences, and will not be easily swayed by simple marketing tricks.

Social networking in moving vehicles, therefore, is the next step in the process of understanding exactly what the consumer wants, when he wants it, and where he is most likely to want it. Of course, this strategy will only work for those individuals who choose to use social networking in their vehicles; however, a surprisingly high number of individuals do not mind sharing relatively personal details over public sites like Facebook, Yelp, or Twitter. Why not make use of this free information, and make some money off it, too?

If the economic growth of the 20th century was largely fueled by the ability of the consumer to limitlessly consume, perhaps the 21st century will experience a new wave of growth based not on over-consumption, but rather on highly specific consumption. In a time when the resources of the Earth are being impacted by the reality of having 7 billion people and counting on the planet, the need to eliminate waste and maximize how we use our resources is vital. Luckily, technology gives us the potential to make much savvier and more effective decisions based on what we actually need, not what we think we want. Speculative growth — which is something in which the stock markets of the world excel — is no longer an effective tool for growth and sustainability. While it may seem like an enormous leap to re-engineer the economy with a simple car stereo, this type of technology literally has no bounds.

Watch a video of the product in action here.

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