OnStar Expands Beyond Advisors By Adding Value And Surprises

Like every automaker, General Motors has been moving hard and fast to advance in the Internet of (rolling) Things, with the benefit of having gotten a head start with OnStar 4G LTE, which the automaker launched early in 2014. That OnStar is now nearly two decades is a blessing and maybe a bit of a curse, as OnStar is very strongly associated with -- and has been marketed over the years for -- safety, security and the advisor. John McFarland, director of global insights and brand strategy for OnStar, shares the keys to success for expanding what it stands for.

Q: Is the longevity of OnStar and its equity is both a hindrance and a help? 

A: It's a little bit of a blessing and a challenge. OnStar is highly trusted and highly known. Brand equity is high, especially in some of the aspects that are critical, like safety and security. And if you want to innovate in a vehicle people have to trust that it will work, and they have to know that it will be safe in that environment. The challenge is extending OnStar around owning technology leadership, connectivity and excitement features. But it's a marketing challenge; we have the product to do it. Now it's a matter of showing proof points about how OnStar is driving new services and benefits. 



Q: How are you doing that?

A: Part of the strategy of moving from safety brand to telematics brand is making it more accessible and giving consumers the services they use every day. That's why we made the decision to offer 4G at no additional price with the OnStar Basic Plan. In the past, OnStar service was exclusively behind a paid subscription. With the Basic Plan for 4G, you get five years of OnStar connectivity including all of your remote commands — the ability to start, stop, lock the car remotely, for example. Again, in the past those were a paid service. And you get diagnostics capability on mobile.

Q: So the idea is giving people for free the stuff they always use.

A: Take what we know about things like remote link, for example: In the cold winter months we would get 100,000 remote starts per hour from people pre-heating their cars. We took things people use every day and made it available for the price of the vehicle. The way that we innovate is through what behavior are you observing and develop a solution from there. 

Q: At the Consumer Electronics Show this year you guys launched AtYourService, where OnStar can send offers from retailers like Dunkin' Donuts to drivers in their cars. How is that an example of a behavior-driven solution?

A: We were seeing that people were asking [OnStar advisors], "I'm on a road trip, and needed a hotel, etc. Would like you to book it as well." We were already doing that, and thought about how to expand it. AtYourService is a way to match drivers and customers with offers and benefits along the journey. Starting with a partnership with Priceline, if someone calls now looking for a hotel they can help you book it, and offer a discount. Same with food and beverages, with Dunkin' Donuts initially. It's a surprise and delight feature. 

Q: What are some new things you are doing with OnStar that add value to 4G LTE for owners?

A: One thing we are doing right now, Smart Driver, enables customers to receive a 90-day assessment of their driving behavior. They can then share it with a third party. Right now it's Progressive Insurance. So if you are a safe driver, you can share your driving performance data with them and get discounts. It's a good business idea for us and an outstanding benefit for customers who no longer have to pay for bad drivers. 

Q: What are the keys to getting customers comfortable with data sharing? 

A: First, there has to be a clear benefit. They have to get real value, a clear give and take. Second, trust, and that comes from the brand and company. We launched OnStar 18 years ago and built tremendous trust with customers, and have been good stewards of their information over that time. Third is transparency; even with a clear value exchange and trust it can be really confusing. Part of that is explicit consent: “Here is what we are going to do; here is how we are going to do it.” With Smart Driver, we explain it as clearly as possible, and you have to opt into it; there should never be an “I didn't know…” situation.

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