The automotive industry is rapidly changing and car brands are under pressure to get creative with designs, sales techniques and technology to keep consumers inspired by their products.
For The Drum Network's Auto issue, Foxtrot Papa’s Matthew Franey spoke to Jaguar Land Rover's global PR director, Richard Agnew, to ask how the brand will keep up with the competition in the massively disrupted industry.
Matt Franey (MF): What’s the most exciting thing about working in automotive communications right now?
Richard Agnew (RA): We’re in a period of unprecedented change in the automotive industry. Analysts are predicting that we will see more change in the next 10 years than we have seen in the past 100. It’s a privilege to be a part of that and makes for exciting times. Whether it’s the changing media landscape or the accelerating advance of technology, our profession is at the sharp end. It keeps you on your toes.
MF: How has the industry changed when it comes to communicating with customers?
RA: The media landscape is extremely fast-moving which gives us a huge opportunity but it is a big challenge for us to get it right. Knowing where our potential customers are, and then what channels to use to find them, is the golden ticket for communicators. Take something like WeChat in China. It has no reach outside of the country but almost a billion users in China. Brands like ours which are growing in Asian markets need to know how to use these platforms to build our audience.
In social we also see the rise of new forms of advocacy – peer-to-peer influencers, for example, who are credible and authoritative but also have the ability to talk instantly and powerfully to their audience. We have to learn how to work with these new players.
MF: Some analysts are predicting that, thanks to autonomy and car sharing technologies, people will no more know the car they are travelling in than the plane they fly on. How do you preserve your brand integrity in that scenario?
RA: Strong brands won’t disappear overnight. They will continue to have their own clear position and deliver on that promise. Even the most dramatic predictions suggest only one in 10 journeys will be fully autonomous in 2030. That means 90% of vehicles will be driven by people who will expect – and demand – that their experience of the car meets their expectations of the brand.
The way we develop connected, autonomous and electric vehicles will be absolutely in line with the individual brand promises of our brands. Jaguar will always be about sporting performance and beautiful design. Land Rovers and Range Rovers will continue to be ‘go anywhere’ vehicles with an unrivalled blend of practicality and luxury.
MF: What is the expectation for disruptive influencers? Is the industry too expensive to crack or can they succeed?
RA: It’s hard to explain just how complex a car is when it comes to its design, engineering and manufacture. There might be a couple of hundred parts in a modern smartphone but there are over 10,000 parts in a luxury car like a Range Rover or Jaguar. Each of those has to be built to safety and environmental standards that are of an order beyond that of fast-moving consumer electronics. We’ve seen people attempt to disrupt the car industry in the past, and clearly they will try in the future, but to build a class-leading car requires thousands of dedicated specialists working together with perfect integration for up to five years – and with strong cash reserves! Without all those elements the challenge is immense.
MF: What are the biggest challenges facing the automotive industry today when it comes to PR and marketing?
RA: Gaining the consumer’s trust. When it comes to trust, it’s not been the best couple of years for the industry at large to be frank (anyone with an eye on the papers will know that). But you shouldn’t tarnish the whole industry for mistakes made by some. What has happened has made people wary of big brands and it is our job to re-establish that trust for the industry as a whole by being authentic, credible and reliable players within it.
MF: What were the vital ingredients behind the success of JLR in the 21st century?
RA: For the last decade we’ve had a single-minded focus on creating world-beating product. If you lose that focus then you stand no chance. We’ve been privileged to have the support of a really progressive parent company, Tata Motors, which has given our brands the freedom to develop product that is uniquely British, yet as popular in China and the Middle East as it is in Europe or the US. We’re now the biggest exporter of luxury goods in the UK. It’s a British design and engineering success story that was forged right here in the Midlands.
MF: What's the best piece of advice you’d give to anyone looking to work in your industry?
RA: You’d better be prepared for a fast-paced life when no day is the same as the one that came before.
This article was originally published in The Drum Network's Auto Special. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more details or to receive a copy.