Of all the major mass-production car makers in North America, Mitsubishi has the fewest dealerships—and this scarcity of dealers can present barriers to exposure. So when the new Mirage G4 sedan debuted in 2017, Mitsubishi did something remarkable to raise visibility: they turned to virtual reality. More specifically, they created a VR experience accessible via smartphone and computer. And it worked. VR provided a platform that Mitsubishi critically needed to engage potential buyers in the Mirage’s target market segment that it could not reach through its dealerships alone. As a result, the Mirage connected with its base and continues to be an unexpected success in spite of a near-universal slowdown in buying across the industry.
In recent years, virtual reality has rapidly gone from being the subject of science fiction to the next big thing. Today, virtual reality automotive marketing isn’t just a potential new way of reaching customers, it’s one that is already being used to engage tech-savvy car buyers. With the proliferation and increasing accessibility of VR platforms, this immersive technology provides a new marketing channel with broad, effective reach and tremendous growth potential. For car dealerships, it is a vital area to begin thinking about—and those who start early could reap great benefits.
VIRTUAL REALITY EXPANDS THE POTENTIAL OF CAR DEALERSHIPS
Digital marketing has presented dealerships with great opportunity. The internet allows them to reach car shoppers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, virtually anywhere in the world. Whether showcasing the top of the line or the most basic of offerings, the internet gives dealers the ability to present their inventory to an audience of thousands of interested buyers at relatively little cost. At the same time, today’s customers have come to expect a compelling online experience that goes beyond basic browsing. Indeed, complete collections of interior and exterior photos, 360° spins, interior panoramas, and videos have quickly moved from ‘nice to have’ to critical components of dealer websites.
With ongoing advances in technology and accessibility, virtual reality will one day also become an expected part of car shopping—and that day may be closer than expected. Currently, forward-thinking dealers are offering VR experiences in the dealership or via consumer apps, allowing them to showcase:
- Stereoscopic interior panoramas. Stereoscopic panoramas can put a buyer in the driver’s seat and provide an immersive, three-dimensional view of a vehicle’s interior features.
- Exterior spins and walkarounds. Customers can experience a vehicle exterior in true-to-life scale inside a virtual space at their leisure.
- All OEM color options. Color often plays a significant role in car-buying decisions, and VR allows customers to see their color options as they will look in real life.
- Virtual 360° showrooms and garages. Offering a virtual space that puts each vehicle in the best light and allows for side-by-side comparisons for multiple vehicles can enhance and simplify the shopping process.
In many ways, VR is a way of engaging customers at a pivotal moment when car shopping is increasingly moving out of the showroom and becoming a private endeavor conducted via personal devices. And virtual reality assets can indeed simulate much of the dealership experience, giving car buyers a comprehensive overview of a vehicle, its options, and the driving experience before they ever see it in real life. It allows them to get a true feel for a car that is simply not possible via still photos or videos.
However, VR doesn’t simply replace the showroom, it can also expand it by allowing customers to interact with vehicles and options that are not available on the lot; whether a car is physically in the showroom becomes irrelevant to whether a customer steps into the dealership or the success of a sales presentation. As such, the dealership itself is no longer confined to its physical space or in-person inventory, but can meaningfully connect customers to its full range of offerings.
THE CHALLENGE OF VR FOR CAR DEALERS
While virtual reality is an undoubtedly powerful part of automotive marketing and will become more and more common, it is still relatively rare. Encountering virtual reality in a car dealership would be a novel experience for most people in the present, potentially making it all the more memorable and impactful. In fact, virtual reality automotive marketing may be particularly powerful before it becomes mainstream.
However, dealerships who recognize the value of virtual reality struggle to find the resources necessary for VR marketing. Creating virtual reality assets and developing a way to showcase them is beyond the scope of most due to the time, expense, and expertise involved. The solution is using specialized services that provide both VR assets and presentation platforms.
CONNECTING TO THE LEADER IN VIRTUAL REALITY AUTOMOTIVE MARKETING
To help car dealerships realize the potential of virtual reality automotive marketing, purpose-built VR technologies are already emerging. Most notably, apps like RelayCars® and RelayCars Pro®—created specifically for the needs of the automotive industry—are drawing on VR assets from specialized stock libraries to create immersive viewing environments. Whether used by a customer at home or as part of a sales presentation in the dealership, this marriage of software and imagery offers captivating VR experiences for car buyers and innovative new marketing channels for dealers.
Dealerships must continuously change and adapt to new technologies and market conditions. By becoming an early adopter of virtual reality, dealers can stay at the forefront of automotive marketing and become a more effective sales force—both in the showroom and beyond.