Outdated status symbols? What the shift from ownership to experience means for car brands

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Felix Morgan, innovator at Brave, looks at how cars are now vehicles to status updates rather than status symbols.

The ways in which we consume, contribute and participate are all changing. In the past few years we’ve experienced the confluence of three dramatic shifts that have led to a big change in consumers’ priorities.

Populations have boomed globally, which has led to much denser urban areas, there has been an increased focus on sustainability due to diminishing resources, and mobile phones and ubiquitous connectivity mean people are now more connected than ever.

These three factors have all come together to bring about a fundamental change in where consumers place value. There has been a huge priority shift from ownership to access – and things that used to be seen as status symbols are no longer prioritised in the same way.

A good example of this is the car. If you look at any teenage boy’s bedroom from the 70s or 80s, there would have been pictures of their favourite cars plastered on every surface. Now, for a lot of teenagers, their walls are bare; they are much more interested in curating their latest Facebook update than dreaming about the perfect sports car. Credibility with their peers comes from the experiences they have and the places they go, not the products they’ve bought.

This mindset shift has huge implications for brands. Considering our role as marketers exists to sell products, it’s going to be very challenging for the communications industry if people are no longer interested in owning things.

Certain industries are already feeling the effects of this sea change in attitudes. Going back to cars, the meteoric rise of Uber is already impacting the automotive industry. A recent study at UC Berkeley showed that vehicle ownership among carsharing users has halved. And it makes sense – research by Morgan Stanley suggests that a car is driven roughly four per cent of the time, and that it only makes financial sense to own one if you’re driving over 10,000 miles a year.

But it’s not all doom and gloom for vehicle manufacturers. People may not care about owning a car as much as they used to, but they still care about what cars enable them to do. Your friends still talk about that awesome road trip they took a few summers ago, you still remember fondly the playlist you put together for that drive down to Brighton...

While people may be less interested specifically in ownership, they are still willing to pay for experiences – so brands must, in turn, place a far bigger focus on experience design. In tomorrow’s automotive industry, cars will not be bought on the marque or the engine size; they’ll be bought on the stories the brand helps people to tell.

So, car brands can evolve by placing a greater focus on creating eco-systems that lend themselves to shared experiences. With the rise of internet-connected vehicles, brands will be differentiated by the social and experience-driven products they can develop, and the value they can add to shared experiences. Communications will follow suit, with a focus shift from products to passions.

Just like the mobile phone or the social profile, the car must become an integral part of how people enjoy experiences, and then share them with their friends. Only then will the automotive industry move from being an outdated status symbol to a core part of a status update.

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