Automakers have an innate marketing sense and for good reason. When your job is to sell the adventure rather than the drive, storytelling is the most important skill. At least that’s how it used to be.
In the past, shoppers moved from ad to dealership.
Today, 86% of car shoppers conduct research online before stepping foot on a lot. The internet arms even novice car buyers with the Info they need to fling tough questions at the most experienced sales reps.
Great storytelling still matters, but it takes a lot more than a TV ad to convince shoppers to listen.
Technology and convenience pushed the battle for qualified leads online. After the recession, automakers embraced web marketing strategies to attract cautious customers and watched their sales bounce back. A decade later, we’re looking at a dramatically transformed landscape where digital marketing is the new normal and consumers expect exceptional interactions and experiences online.
To meet this demand, leading car brands turned to an unexpected place: the gaming industry. By working with creative agencies to leverage powerful game engines, luxury marques like Audi have delivered immersive 3D configuators that provide personalized and interactive online experiences for their buyers.
3D car configurators in the auto industry present enormous possibilities. As retailers across all industries raise the bar on what constitutes impressive e-commerce, car manufacturers will have to meet these expectations by designing exquisite customer experiences. These experiences can go beyond the car configurator itself, and into exciting new territories, including other 3D rendered models, products, and accessories a buyer can try out with the car.
For example, by scanning in items and then visualizing them within the vehicle, consumers can see precisely whether or not their golf clubs and skis will fit in the trunk or if their knees will have enough space below the steering wheel.
What’s more, the benefits aren’t exclusive to customers. By incorporating 3D configurators into their marketing strategy, automakers can boost conversion rates, upgrade their brand status, reduce customer acquisition costs and increase their revenue per customer.
Furthermore, automakers enjoy greater efficiency throughout the marketing pipeline. Marketers can convert final CADs into photoreal brochures without building prototypes for photoshoots. Cars don’t need to be transported to photogenic locations as backdrops can be easily added. Video content for online and social promotions can be easily streamed and shared, and licensing 3D CAD models to popular video game franchises becomes less cumbersome.
If game engines are properly integrated into enterprises, they can boost the production value of marketing collateral and grease the wheels of internal collaboration.
Fortunately, there’s an emerging industry with the talent and tools to
make it happen.
Audi's 3D car configurators
Audi pioneered the use of 3D configurators for car sales. In 2017, the luxury brand piloted 3D configuration technology to showcase its Audi A4.
Following its success they launched the Audi Visualization Engine for all available models in its major markets including Europe and the United States. The expansion gives customers the option to explore millions of possible combinations.
At the same time, using game engines empowered Audi to streamline its internal collaboration processes, as Thomas Zuchtriegel, Head of AR/VR Data, Process and Technology at Audi Business Innovation GmbH explained in conversation with Unreal.
“We at Audi Business Innovation developed a pipeline that is going to be used within multiple marketing and sales departments that are dealing with product visualization. Using Blueprint [Unreal’s visual scripting system], we were able to connect our automated importer right into the heart of Unreal Engine.We saved time, and therefore money.“
Meanwhile in the Middle East, dealerships are eager to incorporate 3D configurators into their sales strategy.
Certified General Motors dealers in the UAE use 3D car configurators to help potential buyers visualize their dream car.
When leads mull over the prospect of driving away in a customized Camaro, they need not imagine the final product. They can simply turn to a configurator and personalize their ride on the spot.
Elsewhere in the region, dealers are using 3D car configurators to help potential buyers picture themselves in a brand new Lexus IS.
Accelerating car brand's e-Commerce strategy with real-time 3D car configurators
A CATALOGUE WORTH ITS GOODS
When the high-end European department store TSUM revamped its catalogue, it sought a marketing solution worthy of its goods.
Underwhelmed by the prospect of a traditional online catalogue, it enlisted the services of a cloud-based 3D platform designed for e-commerce.
A brilliant catalogue of 3D product images that’s currently the largest in the world. Over 30,000 digitized SKUs later, the department store has increased its conversion rate by almost 40%.
THE TUG OF WAR BETWEEN CONVENIENCE AND TACTILITY
Supplying realistic 3D renderings is a natural response to the current e-commerce environment. Convenience has lured even the most stubborn brick-and-mortar shoppers into making purchases online. But there’s an underlying tension between convenience and tactility that’s put retailers selling expensive goods like designer bags or premium cars in a tricky position.
Big spenders want to touch before they take. A quick glimpse and a couple keystrokes may suffice for takeout or a $20 shirt, but when it comes to buying a product worth tens of thousands of dollars (or more), consumers want to experience the goods in person.
Trouble is, we don’t have the same appetite for in-person shopping. Mall foot traffic has been declining for years 8 and some observers predict the imminent death of the car dealership.
It’s a double-edged sword for salespeople and marketers. Focus on in-store sales and you risk irrelevance. Count on e-commerce channels and gather prospects who aren’t entirely convinced of your product’s value and wait longer to buy.
3D STOCK PHOTOS ARE NOT THE SAME AS 3D CONFIGURATORS
Automakers face a situation similar to luxury retailers, and 3D car configurators offer a compelling solution. If the future of shopping is online but consumers need more realistic buying experiences, then the answer is to adopt the appropriate technology.
Standard professional photography and video demos won’t do. In one survey, 95 percent of respondents reported a preference for interactive 3D technology over traditional playback demos.
Photorealistic 3D rendering presents exciting possibilities. A cloud-based 3D rendering is automatically customizable, Eliminating the need for photoshop or re-shoots. It’s also interactive, presenting car shoppers an opportunity to play with their future ride. Car enthusiasts and novices alike can apply different paint jobs, decorate with multiple interiors, and slap on premium features. In other words, 3D configurators transform a critical component of car shopping – conducting research – into a form of play and builds stronger brand loyalty while doing so.
THE COST-CUTTING BENEFITS OF 3D CAR CONFIGURATORS
The benefits of 3D configurators extend far beyond the customer experience. They have tangible benefits both for dealers managing their inventory, marketers tracking customer acquisition costs, and salespeople eager to engage with qualified leads.
European automakers, who occupy the world’s largest and most competitive car market, understand this reality. Asian automakers recognize it, too. In both markets, customers initiate car purchases online and car lots are largely a place of the past. By providing interactive configuration options for customers, these automakers practice just-in-time inventory management by collecting valuable data on what their customers want and designing and stocking cars accordingly.
Astute North American automakers will emulate the strategies of their European and Asian counterparts, because the current model is unsustainable. At present, North American dealerships support lots with up to 300 cars, increasing carrying costs and operating expenses given the rising cost of rent.
3D configurators drastically reduce the need for packed lots. Gathering data on consumer preferences helps dealers only stock the most popular models, move product faster, reduce inventory management expenses, and slash storage space. Furthermore, producing digital 3D twins of car models eliminates the need for time intensive photography and upkeep of said photos.
At its most basic level, increased consumer engagement with 3D configurators enables OEM’s to match preferred configurations with their closest vehicle match on the nearest dealer lots.
Interactive 3D car models enable buyers to not only customize their dream car in real-time, but better visualize just how their future ride will look and feel, too. This could mean viewing the car parked in the city, driving through the country past familiar landmarks, or riding over environmental terrains that compliment the vehicle’s look, style, and capabilities.
Finally, 3D configurators lower the cost of acquiring new customers. In digital marketing, in-market shoppers are the golden prospects. They’re the peoplewho want to make a purchase, but just need some help deciding. A standard digital sales pipeline consists of several steps including lead generation, appointment booking, appointment attendance, and final sale. Nurturing in-market leads through this funnel takes less time andmoney than guiding cold prospects, lowering the overall cost of winning new customers.
Of course, identifying in-market buyers is just the tip of the iceberg. You’ve got to grab their attention, establish rapport, and win their trust. Once you do, they’re as good as yours. Consumers spend more with helpful brands. While one-fifth of consumers are willing to pay up to a 20% premium for personalized products, 42 % of consumers still want brands to provide a guided, curated selections process
.A 3D configurator draws in-market buyers to a seamless tool that provides a suite of options a manufacturer can fulfill. Drawing attention to a 3D configurator during the research stage helps consumers visualize what they want out of a vehicle and nudge them closer to making a purchase. Consequently, using a 3D configurator increases your average revenue per user (ARPU), legitimizing your marketing efforts and supporting your revenue attribution reports.
Ultimately, this level of customer engagement, personalization and predictive intelligence for the manufacturer, provides a major level-up when compared to those still stuck in a 2D, or at worse, static, web.
Predictive intelligence is essential for car marketers trying to stay ahead of the curve. By using historical data, predictive intelligence empowers brands to build customer profiles, understand what customers want, and then pump the right content to them in real time. Moreover, it allows brands to understand trends before they arrive.
That said, a brand’s predictive intelligence capability is only as good as the data it collects. The more customers engage with your content, the more data you collect. Essentially, you expand your sample set and arrive at predictions more indicative of the wider population’s preferences. In other words: You anticipate the needs of more customers more accurately.
A 3D car configurator motivates customers to engage because it offers unique value. As a result, it supports your current engagement efforts while also supporting your future engagement efforts by creating a positive feedback loop. Customers engage more, providing more information about their preferences, leading you to offer content that engages them even further.
In other words: real-time 3D car configurators are a game changer for the auto industry.
BUILDING 3D CAR CONFIGURATORS WITH POWERFUL GAME ENGINES
THE GAMING WORLD PLAYS WITH OTHER INDUSTRIES
Once upon a time, video game design was the exclusive domain of coders. Using programming, these individuals could bring interactive stories to life.
Today, the video game design industry has exploded to include people from various backgrounds. These diverse subject matter experts often don’t possess programming knowledge. To facilitate growth and scalability, game engines emerged.
These engines speed up the intensive technical process of producing video games. Put simply, game engines did to video game design what Wordpress did to website design. If you’re a creative with a wicked game idea, you could simply pay to play with a game engine packed with ready-made tools for 3D rendering, collision detection, and more.
Once game engines opened the door to various levels of expertise, it opened the door to different industries as well, particularly concerning its 3D rendering capabilities. Everyone from architects to Hollywood producers flocked to game engines so they could apply such powerful graphic design tools to their own projects.
Automakers are no exception considering how quickly game engines produce digital 3D renditions of car models that blow car lot photos out of the water.
While there are several game engines on the market, Unreal Engine (from Epic Games) and Unity 3D are considered the best in the business. Preferences exist among game developers and creative agencies, but both platforms provide the ingredients needed to whip up an outstanding 3D configurator for automotive manufacturers.
“By adopting game engines and VR as a core part of your business, you can democratize your data. You don’t have to use complex software to access it, which is why we are so supportive of cloud-based efforts like PureWeb.”
According to Wolff, this “unleashing” of data is incredibly important for digital transformation efforts, especially in product marketing. For a long time, data and computer graphics sat with creative agencies. While enterprise marketers knew there was a better way to hold and leverage this data, they lacked the education in 3D design and VR to move forward.
With time, the consensus on outsourcing digital projects started to shift. It went from a smart management decision to a long-term risk for companies trying to stay competitive, particularly automakers.
IN CONVERSATION WITH UNITY’S SENIOR TECHNICAL PRODUCT MANAGER
If there’s one thing users consistently say about Unity, it’s how impressively multi-functional it is. A designer can build a high-quality 3D project and publish the results across numerous platforms in record time.
This is no small feat. Developing photorealistic 3D renderings and configurations is one thing. Being able to move that data around is an entirely different matter.
Companies using 3D technology will have to manage ample data. Fortunately, it’s something Unity proactively incorporated into its product roadmap. For companies cautiously testing the waters of 3D technology, streamlined data transfer protocols are a game changer.
“We’ve developed what we think is the best solution on the market for importing data no matter where it’s coming from,“ says Ed Martin, Senior Technical Product Manager at Unity. “In partnership with PiXYZ, we’ve built a robust data pipeline to help our customers.”
Unity understands that enterprises use 3D technology as part of larger strategic initiatives, such as product development or product marketing. Consequently, various technologies must easily integrate into their enterprise management tools. With this in mind, the company built a nimble engine that can deftly meet future requirements.
“We have solutions to implement incremental updates,” Martin explains. “So if someone’s released something and a company wants to update their configurator and their marketing content, we have a pipeline that allows them to reconfigure. They don’t have to re-do the entire project. They can keep their marketing product in sync with their tech.”
Evidently, Unity is actively addressing the most pressing concerns related to enterprise-level use of game engines and 3D technology.
In fact, Martin insists that the biggest remaining barrier is the perception of the high costs of a cloud-based consumption model.
“Marketing executives ask themselves, ‘If I put all my models online and I’ve got real-time 3D streaming for all these models, what’s it going to cost me?’ They’re worried about an open-ended number. The goal for our industry will be communicating this cost as an investment by clearly tying it to benefits.”
For Martin, game engines and 3D technology carry huge potential for a wide range of industries. But when asked which industry he thinks will be the first to jump in feet first and scoop up the benefits, there’s no hesitation: automotive.
“Cars are complex, highly emotional purchases. A car today is more an electronic device than it is four wheels on a motor. What the customer touches and sees is incredibly important."
STREAMING YOUR 3D TECHNOLOGY TOWARDS REVENUE-GENERATING
Imagine buying a car with a world-class engine, but no drive shaft. Sure, you’ve got one meanmachine, but it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
In the same way a drive shaft transmits energy from the engine to the wheels, your 3D car configurator needs a mechanism to give its power a purpose. And by purpose, we mean encouraging your customers to buy after viewing your models via scalable, user-friendly publishing platforms.
FROM ONE TO MANY: DITCHING DEDICATED COMPUTERS FOR CLOUD-BASED PLATFORMS
3D car configurators have been rolling around for a while, but for a long time dealerships needed dedicated computers to run those programs. Attempts to make them browser-friendly resulted in clunky digital experiences with frequent crashes, not configurations.
Fortunately, new solutions have eliminated these speedbumps. It’s now possible to publish accessible, 3D configurators in the most cost-efficient way.
A NEW BREED OF INTERACTIVE STREAMING SOLUTIONS ALLOWS CAR MANUFACTURERS TO:
• Keep overall customer acquisition costs low
• Maximize revenue per customer
• Enhance user experience
• Boost return on investment
• Minimize the need for special hardware
• Reduce ongoing publishing costs
Pureweb Reality is a fully managed cloud streaming solution, which brings game engine projects to life and makes immersive, interactive web experiences accessible to anyone, anywhere.
Reality extends the reach of 3D car configurators built with leading game engines, including Unreal Engine or Unity. Best yet, these projects are rendered on high performance GPUs in the cloud and streamed to web browsers on any device, leaving a zero footprint with no downloads required.
PUREWEB REALITY ENABLES THE AUTO INDUSTRY TO:
• Reach in-market buyers on any device from the comfort
of their homes or while on the go
• Embed the 3D configurator onto any webpage and pay
only when a consumer begins building their vehicle
• Deliver photoreal and high performance 3D models to maximize
consumer engagement, input, and personalization
• Scale to meet user demand and usage globally
• Secure 3D assets on server with only rendered images being streamed
YOUR 3D MODELS ARE PART OF A LARGER, OMNICHANNEL MARKETING STRATEGY
Once you dive into the fascinating world of game engines and 3D configurators, it’s easy to get bogged down in the details and miss the big picture.
Step back and remember that your 3D configurator won’t exist in isolation. In fact, your 3D technology plays an important part in your larger digital marketing strategy.
As Ed Martin from Unity notes:
“The key to success is looking at these platforms [game engines] not as just a platform for 3D configuration, but rather as a platform for omni-channel marketing content development.”
Brands can encourage customers to download a mobile app with AR built in to view a 3D model of their dream car in their driveway or receive an interactive digital brochure via chat or email.
Customers expect fluid digital worlds. Your car configurator must be available on multiple devices and quickly load to retain customer attention. No one wants to download and install applications. They want to instantly start configuring from any device.
Smart brands dedicate appropriate attention to the publishing and deployment of their 3D product solutions. Any digital marketer worth their salt will tell you that your distribution strategy is just as important as the content you create.
With that in mind, how can brands build a successful digital marketing campaign around 3D configurators?
Clearly defined goals underpin any effective digital marketing campaign. Such goals include brand awareness, lead generation, and increased conversions.
To reach these goals, carefully map out your campaign journey with a keen awareness of where your configurator fits. Although every campaign will look different based on goals and distribution channels, your digital marketing campaign should consist of the following features, at minimum:
1. A website or paid ads with sharp conversion copy to attract visits
2. A landing page describing your 3D configurator and its benefits to shoppers
3. A form requesting the user’s email, effectively qualifying leads, eliminating unsuitable leads, and reducing customer acquisition costs
By collecting contact information, your brand further enriches customer engagement. For instance, you can send custom brochures based on a lead’s personally configured car in either digital or physical format and encourage them to share this collateral with their network.
By providing high quality experiences you can request high value information and elevate your overall marketing strategy as well.
As automakers spend billions of dollars to build electric vehicles, reconfigure their supply chains, and remain relevant in a ride-sharing world, they’ll need compelling ways to sell the appeal of car ownership.
In our new world of digital experiences, old-school methods won’t do
As William Pollard said,
“The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow."
When the game changes, innovative companies don’t yearn for the oldrules. They get up to speed and learn how to win in the new competitive landscape.
In the auto industry, thriving means remaining present in the techdriven lives of consumers by engaging with them where they are and taking the conversation online.
Photorealistic, 3D configurations bridge the gap between tactility and convenience for auto manufacturers. Giving consumers the interactive, immersive experiences they crave, but from the comfort of their homes becomes possible with game engine technology that makes 3D design accessible to tech and non-tech experts alike.
Plus, sharing these models with internal stakeholders and broadcasting them to external prospects becomes streamlined with real-time collaboration and publishing solutions.
Because in the future, the winning automakers will be those whose physical products possess the digital fuel to keep moving forward.