Enter the Brave New World of Automotive Augmented and Virtual Reality

Original Article by Jonathan Baron for Dealer Marketing Magazine 

The ideas of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and operating a vehicle seem to be fundamentally different. AR and VR are all about existing in a digitalized realm, while automotive is about, in its simplest form, getting from point A to point B in the physical world.

But as virtual reality moves from future fad to current trend, with an estimated revenue of $4.6 billion dollars in 2017, according to the Statista Virtual Reality Products Revenue Forecast, automotive marketers are looking for ways to connect these disparate worlds to create a more complex and rewarding customer journey.

Like so many types of disruptive technology, VR and AR appear at first to be a far-fetched marketing opportunity that’s applicable to some, irrelevant to others. But several automotive brands have already taken advantage of the value to be gained from presenting consumers with a virtual or augmented test drive, making it possible to experience nearly every aspect of driving a vehicle without leaving the showroom.

The test drive seems like a natural way to incorporate virtual technology into the purchase process. But how can that go beyond the showroom and deeper into the customer experience?

One of the most difficult aspects of the automotive journey is getting customers offline and into dealerships. It might seem counterintuitive, then, to offer an augmented reality experience to consumers from the comfort of their own home before they even step out the door.

An Autotrader study reported that 82% of car buyers now use digital technology at some point in the customer journey, so offering something as basic as a virtual tour of vehicles of interest can empower them with knowledge, and make them more certain about their decision. The goal of augmented and virtual reality in the automotive space should be to reaffirm the consumer’s choice to purchase a vehicle.

The earlier that can be done in the purchase funnel, the better. Given that the Autotrader study found 75% of consumers list the internet as their No. 1 place of research during the decision-making process, offering the closest thing to the “real deal” online is a smart move that can pay off in the long run, when the customer is ready to commit.

An immersive digital experience is the natural next step following the growth of website personalization and hyper-targeted campaigns. But these kinds of experiences, like all sales tools, require the ability to personalize and target based on consumer behavior.

Connecting the dots through scoring and real-time data collection can help automotive marketers design custom AR and VR experiences that reach customers on a true one-to-one level.

Cross-device attribution is one capability that will play an increasingly important role in this new world. It’s the result of identifying a user’s device ID, cookies, IP address, and more across multiple devices, combined with a clear understanding of that user’s interests (search history, time on a site, product page views, and other unique data that qualify that person as a potential customer).

These insights combined allow marketers to serve up the most appropriate piece of messaging to an individual consumer. As consumers travel from phone to tablet to laptop to virtual reality device, it will be important to track and connect all of their areas of interest to create a seamless experience tailored to their unique behaviors.

Imagine holding up your phone and experiencing an augmented reality in which the car you’ve been researching is already in your driveway in your favorite color, with the soccer gear you’d researched for your kids packed into the trunk.

The new world of virtual and augmented reality isn’t about generalizing based on buckets, it’s about messaging based on the individual. As the trend continues to evolve, it’s important for dealers and marketers to plan carefully and make the most out of the latest technology.

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