How VR And Mobility Are Influencing Ford’s Marketing

When the Ford Motor Company made the leap into Virtual Reality in August 2016, its goals were firm and clear: this was not an experiment. It would not be a one-time ad campaign designed to “generate buzz” and then disappear. And Ford’s VR experience would not be housed on another company’s platform.

Ford, along with its dedicated agency, GTB, partnered with integrated production company Tool of North America, to create what they say is the “auto industry’s first dedicated branded VR app and recurring content series.”

“It wasn’t about selling vehicles,” said Lisa Schoder, Integrated Marketing & Media Lead at Ford, during a panel session with the company’s VR allies at the IAB Mobile Symposium. “This was more about building the brand. This was about telling Ford’s story of innovation in our products and engineering development.”

GTB’s Christian Colasuonno, Ford’s Lisa Schoder, and Tool’s Dustin Callif at the IAB Mobile Symposium

VR: It’s Where The Customers Are Going

The deep dive into VR reflects Ford’s recognition of where potential customers are consuming content. Plus, it reflects the desire to move to a mobile-first strategy,” Schoder said.

“The VR app made sense for us as a way to pursue original storytelling through  in a thoughtful way,” she said. “We avoided thinking of this as a ‘one and done.’ This was about building a new channel for us to distribute content on.”

The first piece of featured VR content during the launch was the story behind the Ford GT’s return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, 50 years after the car’s original victory. The underlying message of the content was to showcase “the power and efficiency in Ford’s EcoBoost engine” as well.

“On top of sharing virtual reality stories about our innovative products, we are also looking to bring mobility issues to the forefront,” Schoder said at the time of the launch. “As we expand our business to be both an auto and a mobility company, we are pursuing emerging opportunities through Ford Smart Mobility.”

From the final installment of the Gymkhana NINE virtual reality and 360-degree video series.

Initial Results Are Strong

The idea for focusing on VR as a branding tool had been “kicking around  the agency for a while,” said Christian Colasuonno, director of Digital Production at GTB.

For example, at another IAB conference last year,  MINI USA’s Lee Nadler showcased that car company’s use of VR as well. The  main goal was not just to share arresting visuals. He wanted to demonstrate that, even though “VR isn’t mass yet,” the ability of immersive, 3D visuals are able to lift brand favorability by 11 percent after generating 4.2 million views.

For Ford, the initial results of its VR efforts were even stronger. The VR experience for Ford’s participation in Gymkhana, the Australian and New Zealand motorsport race, last October drew over 17 million-plus views, as well as drew widespread coverage from media outlets both general and automotive-focused.

During the IAB presentation, Dustin Callif, Tool’s managing partner, noted that Schoder started her career on the engineering side and then moved to marketing.

“The story we’re telling is how that reputation for performance can be stepped up into something larger for the brand,”Callif said before turning to Schoder. “Is [this use of VR and mobile] analogous to the relationship between the auto-enthusiast books and the mainstream advertising were back 20 years ago? Is this an advanced version of that?”

“Maybe,” Schoder responded. “At least in the way we approached it, if we were saying we wanted to deliver stories with the Ford brand onstage, those key moments are in our performance portfolio. And we also knew that when we dug into the audience insights with our performance fanbase, we knew they were largely into tech and identify as early adopters. Now, we’re looking to go beyond performance to see what other stories we can tell to a broader audience.”

Smart Mobility And Connected Cars

Following the panel, we caught up with Schoder and asked her about other emerging channels that can offer both a branding experience as well as drive performance to local dealers.

While the IAB panel discussion was about the role of Ford’s VR app as a branding and content distribution tool, does Schoder see VR as something that can work at the local dealership level to create an omnichannel experience intended to drive sales?

It certainly could be,” Schoder told GeoMarketing. “This particular app was initiated to build brand stories. We’re also looking at VR within the shopping experience. It could provide education about new features, for example, ‘How do you experience the all-new Expedition from the inside-out?’ That is certainly a part of how we might approach the overall use of the VR technology.”

Aside from VR, Ford is also exploring ways of using voice-activated, artificial intelligence-powered digital assistants like Alexa or Siri or Okay Google as part of a wider smart mobility strategy, she noted.

“We want to understand how to work with Amazon on Alexa, so that if someone asks a question about one of our cars, they can have the right answer, the best answer for them,” Schoder said. “We are already working with Amazon on our connected vehicles and see how Alexa fits into what we’re doing and what our customers want. For example, it would be exciting for someone to say, ‘Hey Alexa, start my car.’ The car is a piece of the Internet of Things ecosystem and we want to explore all of it.”

 

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Google And Amazon On The Connected Home: Services Have Staying Power

Voice-activated connected device usage is skyrocketing — but voice is just one modality in the world of connected intelligence, with image recognition and search beginning to play a vital role as well with the introduction of Amazon’s Echo Show.

In a panel discussion at last month’s CONNECTIONS conference in San Francisco, Ben Brown, Google Home & Wifi product lead and Dan Quigley, STO, senior manager for Alexa Smart Home, talked about the future of IA, visual interfaces, and why customer utility — and privacy — is issue number one. Below, excerpts from their conversation.

We’re reaching the tipping point with [intelligent assistants] and the connected home: All of these platforms in the home today. Are we going to see voice activated devices talking to each other in the future? How will this space evolve?

Ben Brown: Yes, I think it’s possible. I do think there’s definitely a desire for it, especially as we are interacting with more and more different voices in our lives.

But everything about how voice-activated assistants [talk to users or to each other] is going to be centered around: It’s got to be user-friendly, and it’s got to be an experience that can truly benefit the user. It can’t just be because an internet service provider feels the opportunity to aggregate. That doesn’t necessarily offer value unless it actually is something that someone really wants to have.

We’ve seen this in mobile phones and with mobile operating systems before: People may want to interact with multiple different devices [from different providers] in their lives, but you tend to build an affinity towards certain things over time. That will probably happen here, with [consumers choosing] Google Home, or Amazon Echo, or Microsoft, et cetera. And then purchasing [other items or smart devices] that connect to them.

Anyway, that’s why we’re all really interested in this right now. We’re all working our tails off to try to make great experiences, because it’s a pretty sticky relationship. I think we’re going to start to see that. Services have staying power.

Dan Quigley: Again, like I said, we’re at day one here in this field of experiences. By focusing on the customer and understanding what they want and listening to them, that’s how we’re going to advance the system. Think about what mobile phones were like when we first got them, and what a transformation that has been: Ten years from now, it’s going to be a very different world. A very different experience, but it is going to be driven by these [connected devices.]

I would love to have Google, Cortana, and Alexa duke it out. Let’s have a wheel-of-fortune style game-type thing. [Laughs.] I think it ultimately is going to come down to the consumer choice. At the end of the day, they’re the ones that are going to make the decision. A lot of it is going to be based on the trust that gets earned by our companies to support them and pay attention to issues that concern them on privacy.

Dan, the Echo Show just launched. Why was it developed, and where do you see the future going in that respect?

Dan: Voice is just one modality. It has crossed the threshold of being a viable modality now — in that it’s viable in day to day interactions — but there are still certain situations where [visual interfaces] are more appropriate. For example, when I go to bed at night, the last thing my wife would like to hear me loudly say, “Alexa turn off the bathroom light.”

What is part of seeing the future in the “crystal ball” here, though, is that you need look at the technologies that are behind the development of the “do what I need, not what I say” attitude.  Adding a screen to Echo or putting a camera in your closet to judge how you look — it [seemed] intuitive, natural. Again, I think it’s a consumer choice.

Ben, what’s your take from the Google perspective?

Ben: I would just say, I think we’re all approaching this in a way of just trying to have authenticity and interaction. I think that in the home specifically, it’s such a private space that everyone is trying to be super thoughtful about kind of the interactions that we bring forward.

When we start to bring in other modalities, it’s got to add a lot of value. I actually really like the way [personal assistants] are positioned because it’s actually very focused on saying, “I’m going to help you with that.” I think that’s a really intelligent way of saying, “no, this is not about being the all-seeing, all-watching eye in the room. This is very much about being able to help you in a specific use case.” And visual interfaces, visual [search] — it’s very much part of that future.

I think that’s the way we just have to approach it, which is as we do things, we just do them super thoughtfully. It adds a lot of value. I agree with you, I think it’s important that we all do that very effectively. And take privacy and security really seriously — because if any one of us messes that up, then it messes it up for everyone.

 

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