Put Your Brand In The Driver’s Seat: Autonomous Cars And The Future Of Marketing

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Are driverless cars really part of our collective future? Well, given expert predictions they will go mainstream by 2025, let’s bet they will be, and start thinking about the seismic shifts ahead. Not as car-geeks but as marketers of course!

It’s time to look past the hoards of dollars car companies spend on digital media. The past was about using media to market automobiles to consumers—the future will be using automobiles to market media to consumers.

Cars As Social Platforms

What does a car become if you’re not driving it? It’s not just a “room on wheels.” More likely, driverless cars will become roving social hubs featuring every aspect of modern connectivity.

First, take entertainment. McKinsey says we’ll all have an extra 50 minutes each day, and the in-car media market will be worth $5 billion annually — so expect a slew of new shows, podcasts, radio shows, and other forms of content designed to be consumed in a driverless car. Smart marketers can go even further, creating custom experiences. Imagine your favorite outdoor apparel brand taking you on a personalized tour of the best hiking spots at the touch of a button.

Second, think monetization. It turns out that over 75% of Americans drive, by themselves, to work. As if a social network or other media property, vehicles will become channels empowering truly hyper-targeted advertising that can tap into this commuter trend. But this time it’s not Google or Facebook who gets paid. It’s you!  You could opt-in to listen to ads, and in exchange, your ride could be sponsored in countless ways, from credits for premium programming to free gas. Skeptical? Your time in your driverless car will be a unique moment for brands to know exactly whom they are connecting with, how and when. It will be worth good money.

Finally, try augmentation. You know that restaurant your friend keeps recommending? Imagine if they could leave a digital note for you there. Next time you drive by the restaurant, their message would appear on your windshield or console, reminding you to try it out. Or what about turning the inside of your car into a 360 virtual experience? What can be imagined will be done.

An Easy-Pass For Purchases

Like an easy-pass for purchases, our autonomous cars will also function as de facto credit cards.

Imagine you’re driving down the highway and a Dunkin Donuts is coming up. Your car, knowing your penchant for a morning latte and donut, could alert you and ask if you wanted to stop in. But the opportunities will go beyond a glorified “Upcoming Attractions” sign. Rather, you could choose to subscribe to Dunkin Donuts. As you get closer to the destination, your car automatically puts in your order, timing it perfectly so that it’s ready as your approach the drive-thru.

In-Car Experience Is Everything

Of course, since we’ll be able to shop while we drive thanks to the growing dominance of e-commerce, there’s a good chance drive-thrus will pop up for more than just fast food, banks, and pharmacies. With seamless payment and pick-up, why not use them for everything from clothing to grocery shopping?  In another twenty years, autonomous cars may even go out on their own to shop for us. Now that’s a future all of us marketers will have to work hard to own.

A Driver’s Manual For Marketers

It will take a commitment to finding the smartest, most delightful and memorable ways to deliver entertainment. It will mean monetizing for customers not the media. And it will require the imagination to deliver augmented experiences that truly engage—on a personal level. Across all three, brands will face ever-greater competition for share of mind during passengers’ precious moments in their roving social platform, the driverless car. The winners will likely be part of consumers’ lives as never before.

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