Auto brands chart an online course

From Facebook pages before every launch, apps, Twitter handles and digital showrooms to alliances with online marketplaces, auto companies in India are coursing down the digital highway. Big automobile brands are now finding it just as important to showcase their products online as orchestrating big bang launches for new products.

Increasingly, auto companies in India are opting for an omni-channel approach which not only helps create a buzz around new launches but boosts sales as well. Omni-channel simply means using both online (apps, Facebook pages, twitter handles, websites) and offline methods (showrooms, hoardings) to promote and sell products.

The increased emphasis on digital platforms by auto companies is gauged from the fact that in the last few months most cars, motorcycles and scooters have been showcased online before being driven into showrooms. 'Considering the target audience, our social media mix includes daily posts about new products, company milestones, brand building exercises that are fun and promote safety,' said Yadvinder Singh Guleria, senior vice president (sales and marketing) at Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India (HMSI).

Auto brands chart an online course Before re-launching its hatchback Jazz, Honda floated a teaser film on Twitter and circulated it to seven lakh prospects on instant messaging service WhatsApp. In a similar attempt, when Hero MotoCorp unveiled its two new scooters last month, it went all out on Twitter. And the twitter handles of its new brands, #HeroDuet and #HeroMaestroEdge, were soon trending in India. As part of its digital thrust, Hero tied up with Snapdeal and within ten months of the alliance, it has sold over 300,000 two wheelers through this platform, close to 5 per cent of the company's annual two-wheeler sales.

Besides direct online promotions and marketing alliances, auto companies are also using the digital route to engage with their customers. HMSI created a pre-event buzz for Revfest (live five product launch and youth engagement event across 8 cities) which resulted in an impressive 5.7 million people logging on for a live webcast. Social media and online websites together registered a whopping 47.5 million impressions for the event and website hits crossed 8.9 lakhs within a month. The event received an additional online boost from celebrity tweets by Honda brand ambassadors Akshay Kumar and Taapsee Pannu - together they created 3.1 million impressions. Hyundai Motor India, the country's second largest passenger vehicle manufacturer and the largest exporter, boasts of more than six million fans on Facebook.

According to experts, an omni-channel approach not only increases sales but also improves visibility. 'The consumer first researches vehicles online and then goes to the showroom. So it has become important for all these companies to have a digital presence,' said Rohit Bhatiani, director, Deloitte India. He added that auto companies now need to do a digital value addition of its showrooms and ensure that the dealers are abreast with latest online technologies to ensure ease of purchase at the point of sale.

  Companies are also launching apps of the vehicles being launched as they believe that this helps inform and educate customers and increases the footfall at their showrooms. Renault successfully launched its Kwid app that saw over 225,000 downloads within three weeks of the launch. 'Kwid can be booked on the app by paying the booking amount. It has created a digital showroom to attract buyers who are unable to visit the showroom. A buyer can fix a timeslot where a salesperson will explain the features of Kwid and answer all his queries,' a senior official from the company said.

Chevrolet India has partnered with Amazon India for the Chevrolet Trailblazer. Customers can book the SUV at Amazon or from a showroom. 'The evidence for e-commerce is compelling: around 65 million consumers in India will buy online this year against around 40 million in 2014. We found that many of our customers already refer to online platforms before they buy a vehicle, especially in the premium segment,' said Arvind Saxena, president and managing director, General Motors India.

Hyundai after witnessing the success of its online social media campaigns and the growing popularity of the brand as well as its cars on Twitter and Facebook is also working on a plan to enable online booking of its cars. 'We are already in talks with various online portals and assessing our options of going online with this,' said Puneet Anand, group head and general manager (marketing) at Hyundai Motor India Limited (HMIL). It also has an app 'Hyundai Care' which offers services such as access to vehicle service history and maintenance schedule, online service appointments, GPS enabled service network locator among other things. The Mahindra group recently launched, a portal from where consumers can buy cars, two wheelers and even real estate and power solutions. All roads seem to lead to the e-way.