Feature

Driving change in news and motoring

For years doom-mongers have predicted the end of newspapers – and a similar bunch of furrow-browed miseries foretold the end of the motoring industry. As autonomous cars rob us of driving passion, car sharing takes away our vehicles and, no doubt, the advent of teleportation spells the end of the big manufacturers.

The truth is actually far from bleak. With disruptors such as Tesla and Twitter, both industries are changing rapidly alongside driver and reader habits — and by joining forces, a bright future awaits.

Emotional ties

As the car-buying journey changes, how do motoring journalists and advertisers stay relevant? The challenges across both industries are the same — how to foster loyalty, how to engage with readers and how to win over their hearts and minds.

A recent survey by Trend Tracker found that 56 per cent of car purchases in the UK are emotionally led, rather than driven by rational criteria. Car owners also say they feel a stronger attachment to their car’s brand (up to 77 per cent for Audi, for example) than their preferred social network (such as Facebook, at just 43 per cent), according to an American study by UTA Brand Studio. So what role do news brands play in either maintaining loyalty or teasing a switch?

Car reviews and ads still play the numbers game, stressing mpg, mph and CO2 emissions, and this is important to readers. But it’s the emotional draw that has an even stronger impact. In a world where we’re told there’s no such thing as a bad car, the role of newspapers must be to stress the differences between brands.

Both head and heart need to be tackled at different stages of the car-buying journey, playing to the different strengths of the news platforms.

Clarkson and trust

The way in which news is delivered is changing, but reader trust remains sky-high. The paper that used to flop through the letterbox before breakfast is now also an always-on website, an app and the talk of the town via social channels. But it’s the content — not the delivery — that readers love.

Jeremy Clarkson’s refusal to kowtow to industry or editors is what makes him so popular with his audience. With a “respect rating” of 42 per cent, he is the most valued motoring expert in the industry. Driving’s unbiased reviews enable Sunday Times readers to make an informed purchase — 56 per cent say they are influenced by what they read, compared with 44 per cent for competitor titles.

A News UK research study conducted earlier this year found that readers of The Sun are equally receptive: 66 per cent of Sun Motors print readers say it is trustworthy. They are also 60 per cent more likely to use advertising in newspapers to inform their purchase than readers of competitor titles.

Driving loyalty

There are huge changes in the motoring world for journalists to address. The biggest shift isn’t technological — it’s economical. Drivers are now paying for cars in the same way they pay for their TV, phone and The Times — monthly by subscription.

It works for The Times — circulation is going north. And it works for manufacturers. Ford UK announced that 80 per cent of its sales are now on its equivalent of PCP financing.

It’s no longer so much about the one-off sale — of paper or car. It’s about the relationship with the customer — using customer data to drive loyalty and business.

Lifestyle advertising

As car buying becomes more of a family decision-making process, where better to advertise your car than in a family newspaper? Advertisers now crave lifestyle content, above and beyond traditional motoring coverage, to get their messages across.

Which is why moving The Sunday Times Driving section into The Sunday Times Magazine has worked so well. It’s a recognition that everyone drives cars, not just petrolheads, and that serious motoring journalism can thrive within the wider realm of lifestyle content. Car buying happens at trigger points in your life — promotion, expanding family, retirement — so why not take your messages where these triggers are discussed?

Buying cycle

Brands are increasingly engaging with readers at the inspiration stage — in print. When car buyers reach the research phase, the same brands are then able to target offers on digital channels. They can also capture readers engaging in word-of-mouth affirmation through conversations on social channels.

News UK readers had 1.6bn conversations about cars and car brands in one year, according to Keller Fay’s ‘Talk Track’ study, and over 66 per cent were positive. Why wouldn’t manufacturers want to reach buyers at all stages, and tailor their messages accordingly?

When the starter handle was replaced with the starter motor, the wheels didn’t fall off the industry. And as automatic gearboxes, cruise control and lane assist have become the norm, the industry has adapted, not collapsed. Drivers still look to respected news brands and journalists to explain the changes, to save them money, to make driving safe and exciting. And advertisers still see enormous value in reaching those readers through new and established news publishing tools.