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What the car business can teach the rest of us about selling technology features.

Until now, auto brands have mostly churned out commercials full of expansive landscapes and soothing voice-over narration. These ads often look great, but they also tend to blur together. If there’s one missing element, it’s an engaging look at what consumers really want from their vehicles.

But now that car buyers are increasingly willing to switch brands to get the technology they want, there’s some urgency around influencing customers by focusing on the untapped potential of their new technology systems. The sometime complexity of the technology and the newness of its applications – not to mention the exponential growth and popularity of picture-sharing and video-watching online – make it clear that often the best way to show off these important new features is through visual marketing.

In the last year, a few brands have already started to head down that path, standing out with visual marketing campaigns that introduce new tech features in ways that are both creative and informative. The following examples are specific to the auto industry, but the approaches taken can offer lessons to any marketer who has complex technology to explain to a mainstream customer base.

Perhaps the most recent example of successful visual marketing belongs to Hyundai for its funny Super Bowl commercial starring comedian Kevin Hart as an overprotective father who uses his car’s GPS tracking feature to monitor his daughter’s date. After the game, USA Today readers voted it the best Super Bowl commercial, and fueled by the national exposure, the clip now has about 15 million views on YouTube.

Hart certainly deserves credit for the clip’s popularity, but the big takeaway for auto brands here is how visual marketing can make an impact organically. Explaining complex technology is a huge challenge for marketers, but the spot has a strong narrative that incorporates a few nods to Hyundai’s technology without resorting to dry voice-over or overbearing promotion. For example, in the beginning of the spot, Hart briefly checks his smartwatch to track where the car is headed.

Driving home the importance of technology doesn’t just have to come from expensive TV commercials, though. Last year, for example, Ford partnered with T Brand Studio, The New York Times native ad shop, on “Sowing the Seeds”, a longform feature about how companies are pursuing more sustainable manufacturing practices. The report combines interactive design, text, a mini-documentary, and animated GIFs that illustrate how crops ultimately get turned into car parts.

In terms of visual marketing, the GIFs stand out the most since they’re complemented by the #FarmToCar hashtag meant to maximize sharing and engagement. They also provide the added benefit of a shorthand science, breaking down the ways tomatoes, peas, and coconuts become part of Ford’s production process in a visual way that’s easy to understand. The result is a high-quality editorial project that highlights unique car features quickly and comprehensively.

As tech becomes more sophisticated and finds its way into every kind of product and business, it’s opening up a huge opportunity for marketers to invest in more innovative forms of visual content to help customers understand more and make better purchasing decisions. More than two billion images are shared online each day, making formats such as premium in-image ads a great opportunity for quick-hit visual storytelling where audiences can see it. But the visual platforms go beyond the desktop browser: Because of their mass audiences, mediums like Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, and other social networks are the next frontier in explanatory marketing, and whoever successfully demystifies and sells technology on these channels will most certainly have the advantage.

Ben_Plimino_WebBen Plomion is the SVP of Marketing at GumGum and brings more than 15 years of experience in marketing, communications and also business development. Prior to GumGum, Ben was responsible for Chango’s brand, integrated marketing and demand generation. His team created one of the most robust thought leadership platforms in the industry and has won multiple marketing and design awards. Prior to joining Chango, Ben worked with GE Capital for four years to establish and lead the digital media practice.

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by Brandon Gutman
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Brandon is an expert connector and seasoned business development professional. As Principal of Brand Approved, he's led the advisory to become the bridge between brand marketers and best of breed service providers that are reshaping the industry.

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