Like a New York City subway train at rush hour, new technologies advance in fits and stops. A breakthrough occurs, and then the next few years are spent perfecting it, until the next major upheaval.
That’s the state of the current in-vogue concept, the “connected home.” Every imaginable product from toothbrushes to coffee makers is now being connected to the internet, whether that makes sense or not. Perhaps I’m unique, but I really don’t see a need to have my dentist receive a record of my brushing habits.
One product for which internet access does make sense is the car. Due to their long lead times and slow development processes, the automobile industry lags other products in innovation. Internet access and over-the-air software upgrades, however, are allowing them to catch up, and it will soon be a race to see which provides the most-compelling, personalized, cloud-based experiences.
The connected vehicle will eventually become the framework by which retailers, banks and other consumer-facing businesses will be able to create new and unique offerings for their customers. Using AI and Big Data, hyper-personalized products and services could become the norm, with the connected vehicle acting as the hub of the experience.
Until recently, the automobile had not changed much since its inception: the driver pushes a pedal, and an engine using some sort of fuel propels it forward. Gauges tell the driver the condition of the vehicle. When you’re bored you can listen to music. And that’s about it. Imagine, instead, a vehicle that lets you directly charge your gasoline fill-up, authorizing the pump before you arrive. Or one that lets you pay for your tolls using your car’s display, eliminating the need for an external transponder and monthly bills.
Today, certain Audi models will tell you when the light is about to turn green, while advising the ideal speed to drive to avoid a red one, reducing stress in heavy traffic. The coming implementation of what’s known as V2X, or vehicle-to-everything communications, will tell drivers when another car is about to emerge from a blind intersection, and alert succeeding drivers to road hazards a few yards ahead.
Vehicle location will be monitored; if you’re driving near what, based on your buying habits, is a favorite retail outlet, your vehicle’s screen will be able to display a special sale, tailored just for you. Your calendar could be incorporated into the vehicle’s database. When it knows that you’re about to return to your car after a difficult spin class, cabin temperature will be lowered ahead of time to cool you down.
Wearable health monitors would be connected to the vehicle; suffer a medical event such as a stroke, heart attack, or insulin drop, and the vehicle would take appropriate action, automatically calling 911, or directing the driver to the nearest pharmacy to buy a sugar-laden candy bar. Simultaneously, marketers will be able to use the increasingly-complex data gleaned from driver interactions with those vehicles to better understand their customers, enabling them to provide customized products and services that a particular individual is most likely to embrace.
For example, with permission, a vehicle owner’s actual driving data how far they travel, their typical speed, braking frequency, the use of the vehicle’s autonomous features, and other criteria—could be used to set “pay-as-you-drive” insurance rates tailored to each individual’s driving style. Whether in-vehicle or out, retailers, financial institutions and other enterprises targeting consumers will be able to own the customer journey, to use today’s phraseology. That’s in every sense of the word, from the customer interaction with the brand to the literal trip itself. They will have to understand what customers want and offer them an exceptional experience across the entire purchase decision-making continuum.
What happens if a brand fails to do that? Consider the takeover of Time Warner by AOL in 2000. At the time, it was called by the new company “a win for consumers.” Ten years later, it was called “the worst deal of the century.” Not by some snarky critic, but by the man who architected it Gerald Levin.
In hindsight, its failure was inevitable; rather than looking at where the consumer was going, the new company fell back on where it was. As the world moved to always-on internet and online services, AOL Time Warner was selling dial-up internet and print magazines and making customers buy huge packages of channels that they’d never watch—because it suited Time Warner’s business model.
Marketers now have the opportunity to avoid that sort of negative outcome by creating a unique environment for connected vehicle owners that they want, rather than ones that companies think they should have. By using such tools as AI, Voice Recognition, and Machine Learning to craft an exceptional customer relationship, manufacturers will be able to harness the vehicle’s unique characteristics to offer goods, services, intelligent product recommendations, and ease of purchase features that have never been available. Equally importantly, the technology will understand the context behind these interactions, so consumers can benefit from them at the opportune time and place along their journeys.
Voice control will play an important role in the connected vehicle, and not just because it’s a safer way of doing things. The ability to speak a wide range of commands stays with us throughout our entire life, making a connected vehicle simple to use for all. Amazon Alexa will be integrated into a number of cars, beginning with Audi’s e-Tron electric vehicle this year. Alexa Auto will not only offer the same features available on one’s home Alexa device, but also new vehicle-specific skills, many of which are still in development.
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Drivers will be able to turn off their home’s lights, close the shades, and automatically open the garage door after setting up an automated routine.
Music can be ordered up by asking Alexa to play that song that begins with a few recalled words. Alexa will help you get directions and manage your calendar as you drive. And, when you’re sitting in traffic daydreaming and realize you’ve run out of toilet paper, you can order it from Amazon with a voice command.
The technological breakthroughs to allow these developments to occur took decades to come to fruition; that may be even more difficult is to convince the public to use them.
Today, we can follow our Lyft car or UPS delivery truck prior to arriving. And with the driver’s express permission, we’ll soon be able to follow an individual throughout their day, understanding their habits by digesting reams of information and then offering products and services that individuals truly want when and where they want them.
Consumers shopping for cars will become less enamored of buying a product, and more in tune with the buying experience. With advances in vehicle technology running in lockstep across automakers, consumers will look for the marque that offers the best-connected experience by being combined with their other favorite brands.
But in order for that love affair to germinate, each new feature will require that its user be willing to offer up some additional personal information, such as one’s daily habits, one’s calendar, buying patterns and more mundane things, such as credit card numbers.
Yet knowing where a vehicle is emerging into the roadway could tell law enforcement how fast the driver is going, making that information grounds for a ticket. The guilty party in a traffic accident may no longer be up for debate if insurers are allowed to access the camera, radar, and sensor data from a vehicle.
With constant tales of credit card hacking and the theft of personal information, from social security numbers to intimate photographs, the public is becoming wary of giving up their data for some minor perceived benefit.
To make a connected vehicle infrastructure a reality, companies must understand that consumers have an expectation of digital trust: they will increasingly demand that their personally identifiable information and other data is safe, will not be shared without their permission under any circumstances and is impenetrable to hacking.
Europe has taken the lead with its GDPR General Data Protection Regulation rules, codifying the fact that data must be gathered lawfully, with limitations on its use and storage, in a highly secure manner. And California’s Consumer Privacy Act, passed last year, gives consumers the right to not have their data sold, know to whom it has been sold, and to inspect it.
In short, companies must be clear that they understand and endorse the fact that the consumer is the one who owns his or her data, not the company. It is the consumer who decides which connected features are of sufficient value to justify the use of their personal data. But they will do so only if they know that they are getting proper, reciprocal value and that their data will always be secure.
For those merchants who succeed in building trust, there is the potential to return the bond that consumers once felt with their corner merchant who knew and understood them through the “data” of personal interaction, a relationship that has since been lost in the age of anonymous websites and big-box chain stores with constantly-churning staffs.
Whatever futuristic features the connected vehicle will bring, the technology gives us the potential to create through the car new, unique, hyper-personalized experiences for a wide variety of brands, from banks to retail, to entertainment. The chance to put customized, long-lasting relationships with one’s customers into overdrive will soon be upon us.