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Key Takeaways from the Automotive and Manufacturing Networking Lunch at Adobe Summit 2023

Las Vegas

This week, I had the great honor of speaking during the Automotive and Manufacturing Networking Lunch at Adobe Summit 2023. Before I say anything else, I want to acknowledge what our partners at Adobe have built as industry leaders in technology solutions that enable companies to become experience makers. Not only is Adobe a leader amongst its peers, but it’s also a leader that brings folks together from other industries worldwide. The result is a melting pot of innovation and excellence. Also: shout out to Lynn Brading, Perficient’s Adobe Global Alliance Director and the architect of our awesome relationship with Adobe. Lynn has provided endless guidance to me and our automotive practice and has become a dear friend.

My task was simple: travel to Las Vegas and give the automotive keynote. Of course, the trip wasn’t all that simple – I would have to navigate the Venetian Hotel, which is roughly the size of a small state.

My preparation, though, was a bit more complicated. My goal as a speaker was to offer value to the attendees, so I reflected on my experiences at similar events. Having attended thousands of events, I know which presentation techniques have affected me the most. Generally, the best talks I’ve heard were only accompanied by a few slides. Instead of using a loaded presentation on screen, the speakers related to the audience and facilitated a conversation. To emulate these experiences, I kept things relevant by engaging my audience in a great discussion about the exciting opportunities in our industry today.

Consumer Expectations are Driving the Industry

In my presentation, we acknowledged some of the challenges in navigating large organizations and aligning digital transformation goals with business outcomes. We also spoke about the importance of customer experiences and how most of the change coming in the automotive industry is driven by consumer expectations. And there it was: the automotive industry must evolve according to changing customer needs.

In response to a need for a consumer-first experience, dealers are wrestling with the need to evolve from being a sales-driven place to a showroom-like venue. To this end, many dealers have redesigned their showrooms to include family play areas and sandwich shops so that consumers can be more comfortable and grab a meal while they wait.

When it comes to OEMs, they must understand the table stakes, such as having a seamless mobile experience and an enjoyable and user-friendly virtual showroom. To OEMs who are innovating, autonomous vehicles and virtual journey assistants are being worked on right now but have not yet hit the mainstream.

All of these advancements demonstrate the new era of the automotive and mobility industry, where technology drives change faster than ever before. Consumers expect the same frictionless shopping experiences they’ve had with other industries, such as online shopping and subscription services.

The Great EV Push

I greatly enjoyed the conversation I had with OEM leaders who are challenged with solving dynamic industry problems like the multi-faceted demand for electric vehicles (EV) to become mainstream. Specifically, OEMs are all trying to grow their EV business and educate consumers on EVs. This education spans everything from insurance costs to the logistics of home chargers. They also discussed and acknowledged the strategic and, at times, tense relationship with their dealers who need to get up to speed on electrification.

In response to this major shift, the automotive industry is redefining itself, starting with its name. EV-only manufacturers call themselves technology companies, and traditional OEMs are now mobility companies. This name change acknowledges that the automotive industry is no longer only centered around selling vehicles to consumers. It is a new time in the industry where transportation is the very essence of its core. Those that can’t or refuse to change and adjust will be left behind.

Direct to Consumer

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when OEMs competed largely on their engineering capabilities: superior driving performance and vehicle reliability. These qualities still matter to today’s consumers, but they are now table stakes. The new battleground is increasingly one where tech-enabled, data-rich EV companies currently have the upper hand: excellent customer experience. Today, a consumer can purchase a Tesla online with 10 clicks, and that is an experience with which many younger consumers are comfortable, and it’s one that needs to be addressed by OEMs.

Over the years, visiting showrooms has lost its appeal, and most online shoppers in other industries expect real-time customer service. Consumers will quickly switch brands if they don’t get a consistent experience across channels, abandoning their online carts if the checkout process proves too taxing. There is no reason to believe expectations will be any lower among vehicle buyers. This increased demand for flawless and easy buyer journeys is ultimately what drives our future in the automotive industry. This customer-centric approach for OEMs must start at the top of their organization and work its way through the entire organization to the ground floor.

Customer 360°

One part of the discussion that I found particularly interesting was about data and the OEMs’ desire for a 360° view of their consumers. This perspective would include data from branding, regional marketing, and retail – however, it quickly became a legal conversation as ownership of data and privacy became critical topics.

Ultimately, all this data needs to have a place in helping both consumers and OEMs achieve their goals. In a world of increasing competition and more demanding consumer expectations, brands need to play a more significant role with the consumer. Regardless of the details to be sorted out, the OEMs now want a closer relationship with their consumers when, in the past, they ceded that relationship to their dealers.

I left the automotive summit feeling grateful to be with such smart and important colleagues and friends. Their commitment to extending the success of their OEMs is impressive. It also left me feeling honored to be a small part of the automotive industry and excited to be engaged in a dynamic and changing model – one that so values consumer expectations. It is a privilege to work with OEMs and dealers and help both drive solutions for their customers.

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Keith Tomatore

A long-time senior executive in the auto industry who has held the position of SVP, Retail Marketing at Global Team Blue (GTB, a WPP Company) on the Ford Retail Business. In this role, Keith worked with the Ford Dealer Associations across the country to help them with their Precision Marketing and digital efforts. Also, he served as CEO of iFrog Marketing Solutions, which focused on Automotive advertising solutions for Tier 2 and Tier 3.

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