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July, 2022

Insights into Brand Experiences at 2023 Auto Shanghai: From Coffee to Camping to Blind Boxes, What Truly Resonates with Consumers?

4 min

The 20th Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition (Auto Shanghai) wrapped up in late April 2023 after an exciting 10-day run. It was the first A-class international auto show in China since the country loosened up its COVID-19 restrictions, and you bet there was a buzz of anticipation among the automobile brands. The highly sought-after trio - NIO, XPENG, and Li Auto were there, stealing the spotlight, but the big boys of the industry made sure they weren't left in the dust. The state-owned auto giants like FAW, SAIC, Dongfeng, Changan Automobile, BAIC, and GAC MOTOR also presented their respective brand lineups at Auto Shanghai, demonstrating their latest offerings. And let's not forget about BYD, GEELY, Chery Automobile, Great Wall Motor, and other indie brands, as well as the luxury car titans BMW Group, Mercedes-Benz AG, and AUDI AG, who made their grand appearances. There were even some noteworthy second-tier auto brands adding their flair to the mix.

On this bustling stage filled with energy and anticipation, Auto Shanghai emerges as a prominent event in the automotive landscape that goes beyond the traditional car show format. With the theme of "Embracing the New Era of the Automobile Industry," it presents a prime opportunity for car brands to demonstrate how their latest product innovations and standout services work in tandem to build a robust brand.

Even though everyone's been throwing around terms like "experience economy" and "customer-centricity", it seems like a lot of car brands are stuck in a rut, serving up the same old boring experiences without any diversity. In this article, MADJOR will dive into our observations from Auto Shanghai and break down the key elements that contribute to a winning brand experience. We'll tackle it from three perspectives: showcasing products, crafting a captivating lifestyle brand, and nurturing customer relationships.

Read on to discover what sets apart the winners in the game of brand experience!

Product Showcasing

Chassis display surely is a tried-and-true method to highlight carmaking technologies, but it's not the only way.

As you stroll through the booths at Auto Shanghai, one thing becomes crystal clear: no matter the setup, every booth proudly displays the chassis and mechanical structures of the vehicles. It's a clever strategy to catch visitors' attention, making them stop in their tracks and admire the mesmerizing details. In fact, some people even crouched down to get a closer peek, totally immersed in the world of automotive engineering.There's no denying the significance of the chassis and dynamic structure of a vehicle, which is why automakers have always relied on chassis display as a classic approach to flaunt their technical prowess. It's a compelling and necessary method, especially for industry professionals who wish to gain a deeper understanding into the intricate engineering details.

But here's the thing: while car companies and industry pros may find these technical displays intriguing, they might be a bit too intricate and specialized for the general audience. So, solely relying on a close examination of the car machinery may not be helpful for them to truly understand and appreciate the highlighted technical details and strengths of a car. Plus, those nitty-gritty technical aspects might not be at the top of their minds or the key factors influencing their buying choices.

Chassis display is just one typical example among many others. The same holds true for other technological showcases. If car brands want to wow the crowd, they need to go beyond simply presenting a few mind-blowing concepts. Without delivering an engaging firsthand experience, it's challenging for the average folks to truly appreciate the manufacturer's claims about a car's technical superiority. As a result, the impact on product recognition, purchase decisions, and even brand affinity will be limited.

Lifestyle Branding

Camping setups could be a picture-perfect backdrop, but does not capture the essence of the ideal life that the audience longs for.

Within the exhibition, you can find booths categorized into various types such as new energy, new luxury, and more. However, we’ve stumbled upon an unclassified category among them - the "camping" brands. Loads of brands, including their sub-brands, have hopped on the camping bandwagon to showcase the lifestyle they're all about, creating immersive camping setups to attract visitors of Auto Shanghai.

From RVs, which were among the pioneers in using camping to represent a lifestyle, to SUVs and other larger vehicle models that adopt camping as a marketing strategy to appeal to their customers' tastes, and even sedans designed with an outdoor lifestyle in mind, brands across the board are embracing outdoor and travel-themed experiences. Numerous brands are going all out to create a laid-back atmosphere that speaks to their target audience, whether through lavish or down-to-earth real-life setups.

No doubt, camping has gained immense popularity as an outdoor pastime for people to gather with family and friends. However, with the constant buzz of new trends emerging, camping, though still going strong, might not be the hottest trend anymore, especially as we enter a post-pandemic era of reopening and new possibilities.

Taking a step back from the whole camping craze and looking at the bigger picture, brands need to think twice about their approach to lifestyle branding. Merely copying what everyone else is doing can result in higher costs and a greater risk of not achieving desired outcomes. It won't resonate with your target audience, and might even water down your brand’s unique attitude as the trend eventually loses its appeal.

Customer Engagement

Offering free coffee may attract people in queues, but doesn't truly create lasting brand recognition or foster meaningful connections.

Riding the wave of offering complimentary coffee at auto brands' pop-up stores, the coffee trend has now made its way into Auto Shanghai, with car brands incorporating it into their booths.

As car brands strive to find ways to engage and retain their audience, offering coffee as a complimentary service is one such attempt. Not only does it enhance the overall exhibition experience by providing a sense of comfort, but it also incentivizes visitors to explore further since they need to complete certain tasks for the free coffee. Moreover, it extends their stay at the brand booths during queue times, allowing them to gather more information about the showcased vehicles. This considerate service is believed to have a positive impact on brand recognition as a whole.

Let's face it, those win-win scenarios are simply ideal. In today's frenzy for deals and discounts, where even BMW 7 Series owners go wild and crash the brand's mini-program (an in-app feature of WeChat) just to snatch a Luckin Coffee voucher, all that matters to deal hunters is the deal itself. They're willing to endure never-ending queues, follow brand social media accounts, collect stamps, and enter blind box drawings, all for a shot at freebies. But once they've scored their loot, they might just as quickly unfollow those accounts and start dishing out comparisons and criticisms on social media.

Using freebies like coffee to draw in visitors has its downsides when it comes to building a solid brand and product reputation. It's like a double-edged sword that can cut both ways. If the giveaways disappoint or if there are any mishaps in organizing the activities, it can seriously damage the brand's image. In some extreme cases, it can even result in a staggering loss of billions in market value.

MADJOR’s Insights

At MADJOR, we integrate our capabilities in Experience Strategy & Management, Brand Communication, Digital Spatial & UX Design, and Innovation to create unique brand experiences for renowned automotive brands such as Porsche AG and Changan Automobile. Drawing from our previous project experience and observations at the 2023 Auto Shanghai, we present you with exclusive insights on how to craft a winning and resonant brand experience.

It's not just about what you care about; it's more about what your target audience cares about.

At MADJOR, we truly believe that nailing the user-centric brand experience boils down to really getting to the heart of what concerns consumers the most. By directly addressing those concerns, we can create an experience that truly resonates with them.

While NIO's booth at Auto Shanghai had many captivating elements, one particular highlight stole the show: the showcase of their third-generation battery-swapping station. By repeatedly showcasing their battery-swapping process, NIO allowed visitors to experience firsthand the convenience, speed, and battery protection that sets their brand apart. It was a solid testament of NIO's professionalism and trustworthiness, surpassing any other promotional materials on display.

It's crucial to communicate not only in a way that reflects your brand intents but also one that the user can comprehend.

users. Whether you're showcasing products, influencing lifestyles, or launching events, every slogan, webpage, installation, and giveaway plays a crucial role in communication. It's vital to approach target audience from their perspective, taking into account their needs and desires. Instead of blindly following trends, it's important to prioritize the experiences that the audience truly values and tailor brand experience that connect with them.

BYD Yangwang made a lasting impact at the 2023 Auto Shanghai with an interactive experience centered around their blade battery technology. Instead of the usual approach of bombarding visitors with technical information, BYD took a refreshing path by allowing users to engage in a battery puncture simulation. By simply pressing a button, visitors could experience the stability of the blade battery firsthand. This demonstration effectively addressed consumer concerns about the technology, such as temperature fluctuations and the risk of ejection after a puncture.

Additionally, MADJOR discovered an interesting approach adopted by brands like GEELY, Volvo Group, and several subsidiaries of the Volkswagen Group to deliver brand experiences. They cleverly engaged families with children at the exhibition through interactive and educational activities designed specifically for the little ones. By getting children involved in fun and informative ways, these brands left a memorable impression on both the children and their parents, creating a favorable association with the respective brands.

The key is not only to mirror users' existing lifestyles but also to shape the contemporary lifestyle that users aspire to achieve.

MADJOR believes that a user-centric brand experience should aim for more than just reflecting users' current lifestyles. It should strive to lead and inspire, creating an aspirational lifestyle concept that goes beyond everyday life. Merely mimicking or embellishing existing lifestyles may not bring significant value to users' lives or strengthen the brand's identity and image. However, by embracing a forward-thinking mindset and exploring emerging trends, brands can discover exciting opportunities to connect with early adopters and become trendsetters. By staying ahead of the game and delivering distinctive experiences, brands can forge genuine connections with their target audience.

At Auto Shanghai, we have observed several car brands making commendable and innovative efforts. Take Lynk & Co as an example. They truly understand their avant-garde audience and have gone beyond following fleeting trends to create a unique exhibition experience. Rather than just showcasing their products, Lynk & Co has taken a strategic approach. They've integrated their latest concept car, The Next Day, into a racecourse-themed design that highlights the spirit of future competition. They have also introduced an interactive check-in experience with a high-tech amusement park setup and organized an advanced racing simulation driving activity. These initiatives demonstrate how Lynk & Co effectively expresses their brand philosophy of leading a youthful and trendy lifestyle hand-in-hand with their users.

The 2023 Auto Shanghai was absolutely remarkable, with auto brands from China and around the world going all in to show off their strengths and create unforgettable experiences. Taking strategic measures to create a winning and resonant brand experience will undoubtedly empower brands to differentiate themselves and excel.

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