Facebook wants to bridge the rest of the gap that exists between carmakers and all those out there scouting around for a brand to own. And if that means deploying a bit of virtual reality to experience a test drive from within your living room, then so be it.
None of this means Facebook is getting into the business of building cars apart from everything else it does.
“The car industry has been built around mass, and where manufacturers wanted to put more vehicles on the roads,” said Thomais Zaremba, Head of Facebook’s Global Auto Strategy, while on a pit stop in Dubai to spread the word among auto industry stakeholders and allied entities. “What you see more of going forward are individualised solutions at a personalised level … and that requires a journey from mass to personalisation.”
And where would Facebook come in? “We have a solution that runs the entire course of a consumer’s path to purchase — from branding to in-market study all the way to the actual purchase,” said Zaremba. “This way we come into interaction with many partners, and not just the carmakers. There are the dealers, the after-market suppliers, agencies that work with car all cross our path.
“The way we see it is transitioning a car purchase from a marketing centric approach to a consumer-centric one.
“Today, every consumer is interacting in their own place each and every day. And so we have to have the right message for the right consumer at the right place and at the right time. This is a massive transition for carmakers, because they had been used to doing everything from a mass perspective — from manufacturing to communicating.
“We want to create the ability to have one-to-one conversation between the consumer and carmaker and facilitated by a “digital concierge” like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp.”
When Facebook talks marketing, everyone listens. Or has to. When your platform — and that includes the ever present WhatsApp and Instagram — takes up 50 minutes on average of an individual’s 24X7 span, that does add up to a lot.
But can Instagram have the same sort of influence that a personalised marketing pitch on Facebook can offer?
“From an automaker’s perspective, Instagram is more an emotional delivery of a product and the brand message while Facebook is more rational in delivery,” said Zaremba. “You see a lot more enthusiasts on Instagram who want to share the beautiful pictures, and that’s where you go to build a more emotional brand approach. Facebook is more a discovery platform which you follow all the way down to the purchase.”
Can Facebook make it happen? There’s no denying its clout and the funds to steer any conversation on marketing its way. with all those funds in hand, Facebook could even put that to use buying up a carmaker. Or would that be too much of a stretch target?
According to Zaremba, being a car company on its own is “far removed from our current business. And Sheryl Sandberg, (Chief Operating Officer at FB), has been quoted a few times that we are the only Silicon Valley company not building vehicles.
“We want to consistently partner automakers to make their customer experiences better. We can create those deep partnership, whether through Artificial Intelligence or Virtual Reality and learn more about in-car customer experiences.”
All of which means Facebook will remain brand neutral when it comes to carmaker alliances.
But will Facebook deny itself a chance to acquire a car company if one comes along? “We’re not in the auto space. As for acquisitions, that’s the world we live in. But it on our road map today? No.”