On March 15th, 2020, COVID-19 completely changed the car buying journey in Canada as the country entered lockdown and dealerships were forced to close. Volkswagen needed to adapt speedily to the new business paradigms.

The Virtual Showroom Achieved the Best-Ever Engagement and Brand Interest

Purchases intent
+ 6 points
Overachievement of quarterly sales objectives
Audiences drove more efficient traffic vs pre-COVID

The New Normal

While 96% of car buyers researched online and consulted an average of six different online touch points, research showed that 98% of purchase decisions were still made at the physical dealership.

But COVID completely changed the car buying journey!

New reasons to shop emerged

With COVID, new forces were shaping the automotive market. Leveraging a semantic research tool, a technology that determines what users mean when they type in certain keywords, we identified multiple new need states and emerging consumer trends, such as:

1. 38% of the population abandoned public transit and could be looking for alternative modes of transportation. (GWI Spring 2020)

2. Divorce was rising +20%, which could bring a new type of consumer into the category (Nussbaum Family Law). Families who owned one high-end vehicle might consider trading it for two entry-level models.

3. Increased price sensitivity exacerbated by market uncertainty drove 37% of consumers to consider used vehicles. (Corus Auto Study 2020).

How to Adapt to the New COVID Reality?


1- Adapt to cost-conscious consumers’ shopping journey

Automotive websites do not guide consumers through their decision tree as a salesperson would: “With my budget, am I better off with a basic SUV model or a premium Sedan?”. Corporate websites also have a blind spot in the decision tree: used cars. “For my budget, what is the best option: a used Mercedes or a brand-new Volkswagen?” To bridge the gap between website and purchase floor, and to adapt our digital strategy to today’s consumer decision tree, we simplified the online shopping journey by bringing all elements found online and in the physical showroom into one place.

2- Finding data signals specific to new shopping behaviours

We created new strategic data pools by tapping into the emerging shopping behaviours. How did we do it? We took the keywords identified in the semantic search tool (divorces, fear of public transportation, employment uncertainty, etc.) and followed, in real time, consumers who had typed these keywords on their social media posts into their other mobile apps and browsers. We were thus able to understand the feelings states of our target group en masse, including perceptions of our competitors. It allowed us to strike at the used car category, by identifying users most likely to consider Volkswagen over a used competitor.

3- Integrate the dealership network

98% of purchase decisions were still made at the physical dealership and that would not change overnight. Our solution needed to be both a short-term solution during lockdown and a long-term solution which would acknowledge the role of dealers in closing the sales loop.

Introducing The Virtual Showroom

The Virtual Showroom is a one-stop shopping experience, based on a “choose your own adventure” concept. Consumers who were looking for a used car were led to the Virtual Showroom which pushed for a comparable new VW model, like a salesperson would. To bring it to life, we partnered up with AutoTrader, Canada’s 3rd party leader in new and used automotive marketplaces. Autotrader possessed the data, scale, and targeting capabilities to create this shopping experience. The showroom complemented Volkswagen’s corporate website through third-party endorsement (integration of AutoTrader’s editorial content) and providing the guidance between options (new and used) through spec comparisons and a chatbot.

The virtual showroom also recognized the critical role dealerships play in closing sales:

· Live nearby dealer listings, for all of VW’s 146 locations.

· Real-time tactical offers, linked to regional sales program

Driving traffic to the Showroom

First, AutoTrader leveraged its organic traffic to drive visits to the showroom. Secondly, we activated the new audiences (divorce, etc.) outside and inside the walls of AutoTrader.

We personalized promotional creative specific to users’ reasons to shop in environments such as:

· “First-ever” bespoke Volkswagen-intender e-blast using AutoTrader’s first party in-market list

· Organic and boosted social amplification

· Corporate persona on LinkedIn

Unlike the corporate website, Volkswagen’s Virtual Showroom drove incrementality by also positioning our compelling new car offers to buyers newly considering a used vehicle due to the state of the economy.

A succesful campaign

Festival of Media Global
Data & Insight
Internationalist Digital Awards
Best Local Campaign
CMA Awards
CMA Awards
Customer Experience

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