By Ahed Nakad Jendza, SVP, Industry Sales, Mediaocean
It’s not all that often that a new product category with the economic weight and social significance of electric vehicles enters the consumer market. While marketers are generally used to tracking gradual shifts in preference and product evolution, genuinely new categories are opportunities to sell which can reorganise the pecking order of whole industries. That also means, however, that they demand careful re-evaluation of how we work and what success will look like in this new future.
In the UK, the progress made so far in terms of growing the EV market is one of those situations where you can tell almost any story you like, depending on the data you choose to focus on. Over the longer term, it’s easy to tell a story of meteoric success, with battery electric vehicles (BEVs) – that is, cars powered purely by batteries, without a hybrid component – taking a 16.6% market share in September 2023, up from just 0.7% in September 2018.
While that’s a tectonic shift, not all is plain sailing. September is typically a banner month for new car sales in the UK, as the DVLA issues new number plates, but BEV sales to private buyers in September 2023 actually fell by 14% compared to September 2022. As the BBC reported, various factors are at play in this drop, including changing government incentives, uncertainty around the policy to end sales of traditional vehicles, and ongoing recovery from the pandemic and its associated supply chain disruptions. Ultimately, though, while the dip was compensated for by a rise in fleet buyers purchasing EVs, a stumble at this point is a cause for concern.
Pivoting the purpose of automotive marketing
Of course, every market has to navigate the tides of macroeconomics – and EVs are, perhaps, more vulnerable to those headwinds than most categories. Marketers are never wholly without influence, though: for me, a hesitation in the growth of EV sales is also an invitation to think again about how we need to market EVs differently to the cars that consumers are used to.
The framing of EVs as a brand new product category is no exaggeration. While they might physically resemble previous generations of vehicle, they demand significant behavioural shifts from drivers, and there are ways in which this challenge is becoming more acute. While a larger installed base of EVs on our roads means that there is a greater general level of knowledge about them, the target market is quickly expanding beyond early adopters to reach a more cautious, sceptical demographic.
Automotive marketing has deeply seated habits around focusing on raising brand awareness and stirring audience emotions; we have to look a long way back in history to find the last time when car adverts tended to explain the how and why of the product. Today, the challenges of EV marketing are as much about the perceived difficulties of charging and lack of knowledge about vehicle maintenance as they are about the driver’s gut feeling on the brand. That means that broadening the space for EVs needs to shift focus away from the ‘sizzle’ and towards qualities of education, myth-busting, and category favourability.
Happily for us, though, that doesn’t mean that we need to return to the staid, stilted ad copy of the early Twentieth Century, when cars had their first big entrance to the consumer market. Modern marketers have better, smarter, and more interesting tools at hand.
New tech for a new category
Turning to modern adtech solutions will be especially important because of the complexity of the EV audience. While education is the watchword, here, potential purchasers will be coming to the topic from very different positions. Some will be nurturing fears about the driving range EVs can manage between charges; some will want reassurance about the truth of a vehicle’s green credentials; some will react most to the smart, interactive, integrated digital features that EVs can offer.
Regardless of their starting point, a prospective customer’s buying journey can take months, and involve thousands of touchpoints along the way. Effectively managing that journey will require dynamic and reactive campaigns which tailor themselves to the many hopes and anxieties that drivers bring to the topic of EVs.
That is exactly what the emerging landscape of connected TV, dynamic video, and audience insight tools are making possible. Smarter targeting tools for hero creative can link seamlessly into interactive second screen experiences, enabling consumers to influence their own purchase journey while shepherding them towards the educational narratives that will win belief in this new category.
From the production side, businesses are also now exploring how this insight can be acted on more effectively by leveraging AI. Producing thousands of versions of adverts tuned to balance the messaging for precise audience segments, adapting that content to function across many channels and formats, and automatically optimising that content for performance is all becoming possible on a scale that would not be possible through human efforts alone.
This is, in effect, a deep reimagining of the purchase funnel for automotive. It’s work well worth doing, however: what is at stake is not just the success of any given brand, but an opportunity to drive a major social shift which the planet badly needs. The factors swaying consumer adoption of EVs are complex; as marketers, we simply need to be ready to push forward every opportunity we can.