In the world of in-car entertainment and connectivity, a buck’s worth of research and education is worth $100 of advertising. You can talk about your app suites forever, but if people don't know what you’re talking about, and if you yourself don't know which technology the people actually use (and why), you may be spending money to talk to a wall.
It isn't an engineering and design talking point, either. Connected-car technology is climbing the feature consideration ladder, and when consumers use infotainment features, they are more loyal to the car brand.
Automotive market research firm SBD and Nielsen delve into this in a new white paper based on data mined from Nielsen's AutoTechCast survey, which polled some 14,000 U.S. car buyers. One of the things the firms say right off the bat is that more and more people are specifically looking at how they can stay connected, and that is becoming the basis of their car choice. And while it sounds like a small piece of the buyer pie, 14% of respondents who said they would now place in-car telematics within their top three shopping criteria is a lot of people. Especially since a few years ago a connected car was one that had just hit another car in the rear.
The study offers this idea of the virtuous cycle: “familiarity, interest, usage, satisfaction and loyalty.” Loyalty is driven by satisfaction; satisfaction by actual usage; which, of course, is spurred by interest in using the technology; which depends on how familiar a consumer is with it. One argument the firms make is that a marketer who only listens to what consumers say they want is doing negative reinforcement because they are making assumptions about what consumers are familiar with. They are going with what they know.
But fewer than 40% of the respondents Nielsen talked to said they were familiar with infotainment technology; and a fifth insisted that their cars have features that aren't even in the market yet. And how about the 44% who said they have never used one or more of the features on their infotainment systems? If the consumers you poll say they like navigation, it may mean that navigation is the only thing they know how to use. And people certainly won't express interest in something they didn't know existed. Nielsen says there is a 45 percentage-point lag in mature technologies like navigation. That lag is between actual levels of owner familiarity today, and what those familiarity numbers should be given how long nav has been around — it should be, oh, around 100%.
On the positive side, Nielsen found that consumer awareness of connected-car gizmos is heading up fast. And you can probably guess the beneficiaries: GM OnStar and Ford Sync, proving that first-mover status has its benefits. Eighty-seven percent of owners polled said they know GM's OnStar system; only 38% know Ford's Sync connected-car system. But that’s not too shabby, since 16% are aware of Chrysler's UConnect system, and 12% know of Hyundai's BlueLink. Only 3% are familiar with Mbrace, Mercedes-Benz connected system.
On a brand basis, BMW, Caddie and Lexus had the most consumers who said they were loyal to their car brand because of their satisfaction with the vehicle's infotainment system. The owners polled who were most satisfied with their in-car technology own Audi, Cadillac and VW vehicles. Those most likely to use their telematics platform own Audi, Nissan and Cadillac brands. Owners of BMW, Audi and Acura are more interested than owners of other car brands in having infotainment features. And BMW, Acura and Audi owners are most familiar with the technologies on their console.
A side note is that while these features drive consideration and loyalty, customers get cold feet when they have to pay. While 64% of people Nielsen asked said they would be more likely to buy a car if it had navigation, only 20% said they would pay to have it. Actually, voice recognition was the technology consumers said they would most likely spend on.