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Toyota Drives Car Closer to Its New Role of Online Marketing Channel

Toyota told us one was coming and now it is almost here: an automobile that not only connects to the Internet but embraces it. As more automobile makers move in this direction, this will become another channel available to digital marketers.

Called the Fun-Vii, the concept car debuted at the Tokyo Motor Show this week. Its sleek exterior mimics the look of a smartphone, with both the exterior and interior able to be adjusted to fit the driver’s mood, PC Magazine reports, via "skins" and other custom elements.

The exterior can also display motion video and a user interface.

If that sounds like advertising possibilities that is because it is. PC Magazine reports that Toyota demoed the Fun-Vii with a side panel that displayed a greeting card. It is also a highly connected car, able to "link with surrounding vehicles and infrastructure."

A Tantalizing Concept

The concept of the automobile as another data source for marketers has become a tantalizing one. This is a user group already primed for outreach, at least based on findings from a September 2011 report from Millennial Media and comScore.

Most notably, it reported that 63% of mobile auto campaigns lead to site search, about four times the 16% average rate. In addition, 58% of mobile auto campaigns lead to both dealer/store locator and viewing a map, compared to respective overall averages of 15% and 18%.

Toyota Friend

Salesforce.com also sees value in the sector and its investment in this space is likely to prime the car as a communication channel as well. Earlier this year the CRM vendor announced plans to build Toyota Friend, a private social network for Toyota customers and their cars.

Toyota Friend will be powered by Salesforce Chatter, Salesforce.com's enterprise social messaging platform. The offering will first roll out in Japan in Toyota's electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid vehicles due in 2012. Toyota Friend will connect Toyota customers with their cars, their dealership, and with Toyota.

Information that is expected to filter through the application include product and service data as well as maintenance tips. It is not a closed loop system, however, which could be key to marketers: customers can communicate to family, friends, and others through Twitter and Facebook. The service will also be accessible through smart phones, tablet PCs, and other advanced mobile devices.

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