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Automakers rev up for mobile-driven features war

While self-driving cars are garnering lots of headlines right now, the more immediate opportunity and challenge for automotive brands in 2016 will be developing must-have mobile features and software that can win over drivers. 

Smart technology is overhauling the American vision of what it means to drive a car, from new ownership models to a reimagined in-car experience. While it is likely to be a few years before self-driving cars are a reality, more due to social acceptance and regulatory issues than anything else, automakers are clearly focused on building their software expertise. 

 ?A more interesting development is the marrying of a self-driving fleet with the Uber service model,? said technology consultant Chetan Sharma in an analysis of the news coming out of the Consumer Electronics Show.  ?That?s where a lot of disruption is going to take place. 

?GM?s monstrous $500M investment in Lyft is a defensive bet in that future,? he said. ?Don?t be surprised by some interesting M&A activity in the sector. 

?As hardware gives way to software domination, new models and players will shift the industry marketecture.?

Content curators 
One of the big mobile opportunities for auto brands in 2016 will be to offer new drive time content choices beyond radio. 

There is apparent already in a ramp up of mobile applications for in-car use across a number of categories. 

?Drive time radio has been a staple of commuting forever, since it was best designed for people who were driving,? said Matt Rednor, CEO and co-founder of Decoded Advertising. ?But, as we start to become more of the passenger, and drive less with the continued growth of ride sharing and the introduction of autonomous cars, we'll be able to concentrate on other things, not just the road. 

?The average commute to work in the U.S. is 25 minutes, which is long enough for a sitcom episode,? he said. ?Let's see which brands lead the way with custom entertainment offerings that shift drive time radio to drive time content.? 


Features war
Automakers will be heralding their new features as loudly as possible in an attempt to stand out. With consumers increasingly trained to expect new and exciting technology on a regular basis and most car marketers focused on software innovation, brands will need to do their best to stand out. 
 
?Get ready for a features war,? Mr. Rednor said. ?We're going to see a lot more auto marketing in 2016 showing off who has the latest feature or partner integration. 

?Since the autonomous car isn't ready yet, the auto brands will resort to the new tech they do have, and highlighting Waze navigation or the ability to take and post selfies from your dashboard or being able to order and pay for a pizza from your car on the way home is more exciting for them than the same old horsepower discussion,? he said. 

?It's going to feel like the Apple vs. Samsung campaigns with cars as the backdrop.?

As mobile software plays a bigger part in the car experience, automakers have an opportunity to develop a deeper relationship with consumers, something the savviest brands will put a big focus on in 2016. 
Already, Toyota partnered with Alliance Data to launch new private label credit cards for the Toyota and Lexus brands, leveraging a custom in-dealership redemption platform developed supported by mobile in order to turn Toyota?s credit offerings into loyalty tools and drive incremental revenue to dealerships (see story). 

?Consumers are looking for more from automotive companies,? said Keith Petri, vice president of strategic partnerships at IgnitionOne. ?Auto marketers have a real opportunity to use mobile to get a deeper understanding of their customers, beyond the dealership, website and time of purchase. 

?By capturing and making use of individual data, you can better connect with and serve customers on an individual basis,? he said. ?Collecting and layering in details such as driving habits, travel history, service patterns and more, that customer data can then further inform you in how to best communicate and add to your brand value based on that information. 

?Pulling information via app or staying in touch at the service level can give you additional details to inform more sophisticated outreach.?

Cross-channel outreach
Another opportunity for automakers this year is in better leveraging advanced mobile technology such as beacons paired with cross-channel orchestrated outreach to deliver more effective geo-specific marketing, beyond what has been done in the past.

As mobile becomes a bigger part of the automotive experience, one challenge that is going grow in importance this year is assuring consumers that the mobile-enabled car experience is safe. 

?They've already had a tough time trying to curb texting while driving, which is now the largest killer of teens in the country, so it will be interesting to see how the people, especially parents, react to the onslaught of new messaging the auto brands will be promoting about their increased mobile connectivity,? Decoded?s Mr. Rednor said. 

Carmakers are also going to be inundated with mobile data and may not know how to sift through the information to find what is relevant. 

?Look for new ways to add usefulness to the customer each day, and that can then integrate into mobile experiences,? IgnitionOne?s Mr. Petri said. 

?It?s about finding new ways to give people what they want, what they need, and what they might not necessarily expect from your brand ? serving and delighting them in such a way that it reinforces and solidifies their loyalty,? he said. ?Then using the data from those experiences can only help make the other more traditional brand interactions that much more rich.?