'Intent, Content & Consumer are the key elements of successful virtual conference'

Fonseca ,Head of Communications, ŠKODA AUTO Volkswagen India Pvt Ltd talks about dealing with the corona crisis, technological innovations, the success of the first virtual conference and more

e4m by Nafisa Shaheen
Updated: Jul 10, 2020 9:24 AM
Denver Fonseca

Automobile industry has been on the steeper side of the pyramid for quite some time now with the pandemic adding to the situation. Social distancing and lockdown norms have halted production work.  Following rules of the new normal, ŠKODA AUTO India recently had their first-ever virtual conference in India for the market introduction of the all-new KAROQ, RAPID 1.0L TSI and SUPERB FL to keep the momentum going.

Resuming productions last month, ŠKODA AUTO Volkswagen India Private Limited (ŠAVWIPL) has been keeping the lines of communications open under the able leadership of its corporate communication head, Denver Fonseca. Along with intensifying preparations for India 2.0 project, the Indian subsidiary of German automotive manufacturing company, has been pioneering innovations in technology and amplifying the digital approach.

E4m interacted with Denver Fonseca - Head of Communications on how the automotive manufacturer company is dealing with the coronavirus crisis, technological innovations, success of the first virtual conference, trends to come and more.

Edited Excerpts:

The automobile industry has been witnessing a slump before the lockdown took centre stage. With showrooms being shut for months now, how is the corona crisis being handled?

These are difficult times for the industry but we are coping up with the tepid demand by looking at innovative solutions to circumvent the ongoing crisis. Showrooms being partly functional, we continued the engagement with our consumers via 'contactless' digital means. We even hosted our first-ever virtual conference in India for the market introduction of the new RAPID 1.0 TSI, the new SUPERB and the all-new KAROQ which was an overwhelming success. On the operational front, we have already brought in newer 'Simply Clever' customer outreach and experience programmes, while augmenting our sales and service network in the country.

We already had a centralized booking platform (buyskodaonline.co.in) to provide consumers with the ease of booking cars from the comfort of their abode. This portal has been a boon during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis as it provides a transparent, safe and contactless engagement option, thereby securing the health and safety of our employees as well as our patrons. Additionally, we are supporting our dealer partners with financial initiatives to ensure their sustenance, and for our customers, we have extended the free service tenure and the warranty period. Apart from this, we are also training our staff members to maintain hygiene by wearing masks, gloves, and maintaining social distance and contactless conversations, as the new consumer interaction norm. We are following the government directives with respect to restarting our manufacturing, sales and service operations and are strictly abiding by the new social distancing and sanitization norms.

 With social distancing norms being practised, customers are not getting the touch-and-feel factor of cars when buying it. How are you using technology for innovation in this section?

The pandemic has acted as a catalyst to augment consumers and brands to adopt digital engagement. The consumers were quick to adapt to the online means, and thus brands had to act swiftly and realign their strategies to 'the new normal'.Integration of technology and building the digital framework is an ongoing process as we commit to provide the consumers with an unmatched premium brand experience, both offline and online. In fact, we championed the online sales experience with our centralized booking platform, which became an instant hit among consumers, during the pre-COVID time. This virtual booking platform offers completely contactless experience allowing customers to choose a ŠKODA from the comfort of their home, specify it, figure out financing and insurance options, and order it online. A process that is completely transparent and safe.

The portal integrates our 80 plus dealership points countrywide and comes equipped with a useful consultation programme that even boasts a virtual product demo. The entire contactless experience will ensure that the health and safety of our employees, dealer staff and importantly, our customers are not compromised. Going forward, test drives and deliveries will be at the convenience, comfort and safety of the customer. The auto industry is looking at technology tools like AI, virtual reality, IoT to enhance the virtual buying experience of cars, and as technology evolves this virtual experience will also become as close as possible to the real-time experience.

 What is the influence of digital on brand-led communication? What is ŠKODA AUTO Volkswagen India doing in this regard?

In the last decade, digital has evolved from being a peripheral tool to now being an indispensable part of all communication strategies. Internet and smartphones brought a paradigm shift in brand-consumer conversations and content consumption. Today, with path-breaking innovations, disruptive announcements are conveyed through social media handles, and within minutes the news is trending nationally or even across the globe.

The digital medium has enabled communication to be interactive, real-time and in many ways, brought the consumer and brand closer. But alongside it also has adversities of trolling, fake news, hacking, which are perils for the brand reputation. At ŠKODA AUTO Volkswagen India, we have a robust digital framework and a strong social media presence which actively engages and monitors consumer sentiments. In the future, digital engagement is going to be 'the new normal' for brands and consumers alike, so we are continuously looking to upgrade our online presence to provide a seamless and enhanced brand experience, whenever and wherever they get in touch with us.

ŠKODA AUTO India recently had their first-ever virtual conference in India for the market introduction of the all-new KAROQ, RAPID 1.0L TSI and SUPERB FL. What according to you is the key for the success of virtual launches?

The key elements for a successful virtual launch are: Intent, Content and Consumer.

Firstly define the intent for the virtual conference and keep it as sharp as possible. If one has multiple announcements or objectives, the listener might lose interest or not grasp what is being conveyed. Since most of the audience is attending the virtual conference from the comfort of their personal space, it is imperative to hold their attention and keep them engaged. The second critical factor is the Content. It needs to be crisp, informative and engaging with the right amount of visual aid to accentuate the presentation. Dynamic backdrops, virtual reality, enhanced computer graphics are the new trends, but one must carefully evaluate if these tools will enhance the content or override it. Lastly, you have to clearly define the target audience that is relevant to your conference. Else the numbers may be high but the impact and quality of engagement would be limited and not much help to the brand.

The ŠKODA AUTO India Virtual Conference was a perfect blend of crisp motion graphics, human to graphics interaction points, advertising grade creatives, and much more. With four weeks of planning, three weeks of production, a few quirky teasers and a cross-platform approach, the team delivered the perfect virtual launch setting a benchmark in the industry.

 How is the communication team safeguarding the interest of both internal and external stakeholders?

The communications team plays an important role as a driving force at the heart of the company. It works in collaboration with other functions and departments to constructively challenge and help shape the company’s engagement, both internally and with the external audience. The communications team is well versed with the company’s business objectives and they keep track of the pulse of the conversations amidst their external stakeholders to counter any ambiguity in reputation.

Similarly, they also keep a close ear on the conversations of the internal audience and ensure that the outside view/notions are not misconstrued, leading to doubt or ambiguity in the minds of the internal audience. The team develops and executes proactive communications and engagement programmes for both external and internal stakeholders and ensure that consistent and credible messages are delivered, across the traditional and digital landscape.

 How do you make sure that any communication from the firm to the consumers does not sound opportunistic or promotional in these difficult times?

During a time of crisis, it is very plausible that even the right intentions might be seen as a promotional gimmick, so it is imperative for us to be careful in their engagement. Here again the Intent and Content come into play because one must be honest about the Intent with their audience and also make sure that all narratives around the initiative are simple, clear and have no ambiguity or undertone of promotion. At the same time, we keep a tab on the social conversations emanating and tactfully counter any troll or forceful effort made to malign the brand communication.

 What will be the new trends in the brand-consumer engagement post COVID era?

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a paradigm shift in consumer behaviour, and the ripple effect has caused brands to also realign their strategies to adjust to 'the new normal'. The key trends we anticipate are:

  • Consumers will be reluctant to mingle in crowded public places and thus there is a higher propensity for digital adoption.
  • Brands can no more rely only on offline services but will have to adapt to new norms of online buying and engagement.
  • Consumers are going to spend consciously and thus look for brands that offer value add benefits rather than just frills.
  • Brands will look to deliver simple messages that address social responsibility.
  • Health and safety will be a priority concern and brands will have to adhere to the new norms of contactless consumer interaction.

 

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