Wendy’s or McDonald’s? Your connected car knows what you like.

Profile picture for user Jerry.bowles By Jerry Bowles October 29, 2019
A new study from Adobe Analytics sheds light on the personalization capabilities of connected cars - and the privacy issues in play.

connected car concept

The day when self-driving cars dominate the world’s highways is still years away, experts agree, but that hasn’t discouraged a crowded field of established automakers and startups from spending billions of dollars on the journey to making autonomous vehicles an everyday reality.

The futuristic end goal is to allow riders to get in their car, tell their voice assistant where they’re going, and go there without the pesky problem of paying attention to steering and navigating.

While we’re getting to that goal, automakers are gradually adding trusted self-driving features like lane assist and parking assist. At the same time, automobiles are becoming more and more connected. A 2017 study from McKinsey suggested that cars are now sending up to 25 gigabytes of data into the cloud every hour.

Given that level of valuable customer data, you may not be surprised to learn that marketers are already gathering and analyzing data to try to figure out what mobile apps and features you want in your auto today and what you plan to do with your attention once you no longer have to concentrate on driving.

In a just-released new study called The Future of Driving, Adobe Analytics analyzed over 1 trillion visits to websites, including many of the world’s leading automotive sites, to better understand how consumers research car purchase options on digital channels. The analysis was coupled with research from a survey or more than 1,000 U.S. consumers, to identify the “connected car” features people are most excited about.:

Adobe connected cars survey

Among the key findings:

  • Forty percent of drivers said they are in favor of self-driving cars being available for purchase.
  • Nearly half of drivers said they intend to snack, chat on the phone, or catch up on email while the car drives itself.
  • Beyond snacking, chatting, and email, some respondents admitted they would want to enjoy more leisurely activities, like sleeping (30%), enjoying their favorite podcast (26%), or catching up on their favorite TV show (24%).
  • Forty-four percent of drivers said having a car with self-driving features such as lane assist and parking assist factors in their car-buying decision.
  • Sixty percent of electric/hybrid car owners said they are willing to share their car data in exchange for personalized experiences.
  • Sixty percent of gas car drivers said they’d be more willing to purchase an electric car if charging stations were more readily available, batteries had a longer range, and the cars were more affordable.
  • Millennials and Gen Z conveyed the most positive attitudes toward self-driving and connected cars and features.
  • Nearly half of electric/hybrid car owners are Millennials, compared with gas car drivers, who are evenly dispersed across age groups (with the exception of Gen Z).
  • One in three drivers said a built-in voice assistant is a factor in their car-buying decision.
  • In fact, one in four drivers said they’re driving a car with some type of built-in voice control functionality, and 39% of drivers said they use their voice assistants daily.
  • The majority of drivers (61%) with connected car functionality confirmed their built-in voice assistants work well.
  • Visits to pages containing connected car information on car manufacturer sites have increased 35% since January 2019, while nonconnected car pages have only seen a 5% growth in the same time period.
  • Additionally, connected car pages are now contributing 12% more to overall car website traffic than in January 2019.
  • The majority of drivers (51%) said they want more connected smart features and support in their cars so they can be less reliant on smartphones when behind the wheel.
  • Of the 25% of drivers whose cars have built-in voice control, many are using that functionality to complete tasks they would otherwise handle outside the car, such as texting (49%), shopping (9%), and searching sports scores (9%).

More interesting for enterprise software aficionados, perhaps, Adobe introduced a new data analysis platform called Customer Journey Analytics for Automakers (as distinct from, say, retail for which there is also a platform) that will aggregate and link together data car companies are already gathering from in-car telematics, the vehicle's infotainment system, and carmaker apps and websites and organize it in a way that can provide insights about customer behavior.

Adobe says Adobe says 10 of the world’s largest automakers, including BMW, Ford, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, and the Volkswagen Group, already use Adobe Analytics. Said Colin Morris, director of product management for Adobe Analytics Mobile, in a blog post:

Customer Journey Analytics empowers brands to activate data they likely have available but are not harnessing for customer value. From website engagement to telematics and head unit usage, automakers have data in silos. It creates a disjointed view that inhibits success in customer experience management (CXM).

Customer Journey Analytics taps the power of Adobe Experience Platform, to bring together unrelated data under a common language. A set of deep analytics tools lets automakers be more creative in how they understand and action data, while leveraging AI/ML in Adobe Sensei to automate heavy analysis and catch trends the human eye may miss.

All of which is corporate-speak for: "this thing gives you tons of information about your customers to work with." The value to consumers of having a company know they like Wendy’s better than McDonald’s and Bruno Mars better than Ed Sheeran is less clear.

Adobe says that all the data in its platform is anonymized using obscured VINs and user IDs, but whether carmakers can attach data points to specific users will depend on each company's end user license agreement (EULA). In some cases, just using a car or its software systems constitutes agreeing to the EULA. To its credit, Adobe says it encourages its customers to give precedence to privacy protections, even if it means more customers opt out.

My take

Once again, high tech presents customers with an extremely powerful and, frankly, potentially invasive tool to collect vast amounts of data about their users and their buying habits. The data know where you are, where you’re going, how healthy your car is, how well you’re driving (insurance companies love this feature), what you’re listening to on your infotainment systems, what questions you’re asking your voice assistant, where you stopped to let the dog pee, even the time you got out of the car for a second and immediately got back in.

All of which is legal most places, with user consent - even sneaky user consent. Martech benefits from end user complacency, and a lack of understanding of the depths of information being collected and how it’s being used.

Or, more frightening, its potential for misuse.

Image credit - Feature image - Intelligent car, intelligent vehicle and smart cars concept, by @jirsak, from Shutterstock.com. Adobe graphic from Adobe "Future of Cars" report linked above.