Car Business

February 9, 2015

Peter Smyth

I’ve written previously in this space about the importance of the rapidly evolving connected car. In the past several months, we have seen new advancements and powerful new players make their presence known.  Google Now and Apple Car Play are names you will hear more about in coming months. They are the two giants’ efforts to extend your mobile phone look and controls seamlessly onto your new car’s center screen. They will allow voice control of the functions as well as a recognizable interface. In short, it will look like an iPhone or Android phone screen.

However, the folks in Detroit are not conceding to the powerhouses of Silicon Valley. They continue work on their own systems.  Most notably, Ford is introducing a whole new approach to the interface for their Sync platform, with a much simpler and cleaner look and feel. Other car makers have moved to include a built-in cellphone connection in the dash, a part of their plans for the intelligent car that lets you know when maintenance needs to be performed and, farther in the future, the autonomous (self-driving) car.   This should prove to be an epic battle with real consequences.

Radio needs to make its case to the lords of the dashboard that customers need and want a simple, readily-available interface to find their favorite stations in the new center stack.  This is easier said than done.  Radio is a medium of thousands of local stations and the auto industry is an industry of multinational behemoths.  It’s difficult to make a meaningful case to a Detroit executive on behalf of one local station, or even one corporate broadcaster. Scale is everything to auto manufacturers.  That is why it is important for every broadcaster to develop a strategy for the connected car. Aggregators do exist like iHeart Radio, TuneIn, or NextRadio, who have the scale and staff to cooperate with the automakers in a meaningful fashion. Even if you have a mobile app for your individual station, you should have an extension strategy with one or more of these national efforts.

It is also crucial that you take a good critical look at your station’s relationship with the local car dealer community. Here is where the station’s local influence can be brought to bear.  These are  some of our best long-term advertising clients, and deepening and broadening our relationship with each local dealer is an important piece of work for every sales staff. The car dealer’s business is evolving and changing as rapidly as our own.  In past years, it was almost a given that car dealers were family-owned and operated, and they had a standing year-round presence on your airwaves.    Today, they are more and more often part of a multi-brand, multi-location corporation and are heavily involved with their own online presence and online advertising. They have retooled their marketing budgets to include a significant online ad presence in response to manufacturers’ mandates.

As significantly, car dealers have new challenges in their selling process. Prospects are asking more questions about technology than horsepower these days, and if you’ve bought a new car in the past several years, you know that the orientation can take literally an hour to cover.  These new demands on dealers’ staff and time can provide opportunities for your station to partner in deeper ways with them. We are involved with their customers and technology; we are a logical candidate to help with some of these consumer demands. An entertaining video explaining the new center stack hosted by your station’s morning team can be more entertaining and informative (and accurate) than using more of their sales staff’s time.   Perhaps a monthly seminar for new car owners would be useful for both the dealer and the radio station.  Your station’s digital staff can help create learning modules for inclusion on the dealer website as well as yours.

In order to develop these partnerships, it requires radio sales managers and senior sellers to sit with owners or dealer sales managers and get a sense of how they are responding to their challenges.  It’s only then that we can explain to them what other capabilities we have beyond the traditional on-air broadcast schedule. We are limited only by the client’s needs and our creativity.

It is a priority for radio to more deeply involve ourselves with automotive. It is not only a prime advertising category; it is a business partner for the continued health of radio as a mobile medium. We have long-standing relationships with each and every local outlet for this category. It is an opportunity that we cannot squander by doing business as usual.