“Amid the current situation, it’s about adopting a humble communication style”

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“Amid the current situation, it’s about adopting a humble communication style”

“Amid the current situation, it’s about adopting a humble communication style”

Interview by Alexandra Klinnik and photos by Yves Forestier- Published on 20 June 2020
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How do you communicate amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic when you're a large multinational such as Renault? What impact has the crisis had on the communications approach? What channels do you favour to connect with a young audience that wants "snackable content"? These are the questions we asked Emmanuel Guinot, Head of Campaigns, Content

You recently launched a chatbot on Facebook Messenger called Watt, which is dedicated to future mobility. Why did you choose this traditional approach?

Emmanuel Guinot: The chatbot may seem like a "traditional" approach but it is an effective one. It offers a fun and informative experience that aims to deliver corporate messages to a younger target audience. Thanks to this bot, we can reach a larger audience on themes that we hold dear: Renault's range of electric vehicles, current innovations in the automobile industry, the future of mobility, new trends in the sector, etc.

With Watt, the first conversation is like a personality test in order to determine what subjects most interest the user. The bot creates a personalised story with several different scenarios. As the conversation develops it highlights a range of articles published on Groupe Renault's various webpages that might interest the user. It's the "snackable content" experience.
«Chatbots create a strong affinity with the target audience, thus enabling us to win over a new type of audience.»

What has feedback been like?

E.G.: This format has already proven itself in the past. In 2019, Groupe Renault promoted one of its flagship vehicles, the new ZOE, to millennials. The result? A chatbot that really resonated with the target audience, enabling us to win over a new audience – an audience that would not normally be drawn to the group's "classic" channels. This audience is looking for "snackable content"; content which is more personalised and more adapted to them, content based more on interaction rather than delivering information in a top-down manner, content that is informative: in short, content that focused directly on them.

For the Watt chatbot, the feedback has been very positive, based on the paid media campaign that focused on people interested in these concepts and subjects. It is important for us to not be seen as being intrusive; the chatbot does not activate itself "automatically". 
«Winning over new audiences isn't always about getting people to make a purchase or about immediate sales returns, but more about raising awareness.»

Is this a key objective for Groupe Renault: reaching a younger audience?

E.G.: Indeed, we want to reach a younger audience as part of a complementary approach. The chatbot is a complementary tool used alongside other channels – relations with influencers, traditional paid media campaigns and employee advocacy with our partner ambassadors. Our goal is to make people aware that we are committed to bringing about a major transformation in response to mobility-related issues.

Over the next 10 years the automobile industry will face unprecedented challenges. Today we are seeing a revolution in terms of both technology (the electric engine, the use of hydrogen etc.) and usage. In Europe, buying a vehicle for your personal use is no longer necessarily the way things are done in large cities. Shared vehicles appear as an attractive alternative for many young drivers. Winning over new audiences isn't therefore necessarily always about getting people to make a purchase or about immediate sales returns, but more about raising awareness. This is especially true of the whole ecosystem linked to electric mobility. The overall objective is to explain the transition that we are committed to, as are other "classic" stakeholders in the industry.

What types of communication does Groupe Renault use most?

E.G.: We use all types of communication, of course, depending on the target audience, the objective and the region of the world in which we are operating. Corporate communication, in contrast to pure marketing, tends to be based mainly on traditional channels: primarily top-down communication, whether internal or external, press relations and social media. As a group, we try and go far beyond this. This could be in the form of employee advocacy at several levels, with our partner ambassadors and content creators. Long-standing relations with associate influencers are also a part of our communications strategy. For social media, we try to innovate as much as possible across our social media  ecosystem, which of course stretches from Facebook to LinkedIn, not overlooking Instagram, Twitter and all the others.

For three years now, we have been promoting test-and-learn solutions in particular, and investing in new format types.

In 2007, for the Frankfurt Car Show, we set up the "Time Capsule" initiative. With the aid of a bot linked to the group's Twitter account, event participants were invited to share their vision of the vehicle of the future for 2030 via direct messaging. These messages were then hidden in order for them to be "unearthed" at a much later date in the future...  in reality, at the end of that same year, at the moment of the unveiling of one of our vehicles, SYMBIOZ, a self-driving, electric, connected concept car that illustrates our vision of mobility in 2030. This initiative put the wheels of a far-reaching conversation in motion, and enabled Renault to positively stand out from crowd among other car manufacturers.

Our collaborative alternate reality game, launched in 2018 highlighted mobility in a smart city, also comes to mind. "Mobility theory" was an immersive experience which could be played via social media channels, on a gaming platform (Discord) and in the real world. The goal was to track down a character named Laurent Marcovick. We hid clues on the platforms of our media partners and in real, physical places too. This sparked a conversation that evolved over time on participants' social media channels, as well as leading people to chat about Renault in a fun and totally different way.
«F1 attracts huge audiences and ensures international attention»

You also get famous influencers to appear in short three-minute videos: recent examples include the Renault DP World F1 Team racing driver Esteban Ocon and the French influencer WorldSupercars, who was trying out one of your new hybrid ranges. What was the idea behind this?

E.G.: Formula 1 attracts huge audiences and ensures international attention. It helps us raise awareness in markets where we are still developing our activities, such as Brazil or India: markets where Renault is known, but not as well-known as in France. The Netflix series "Drive to Survive", which has now been running for two seasons and shines the spotlight on the world of F1, has helped a lot in terms of extending the Formula 1 fan base and making it younger. It's a very effective series that generates a lot of emotion. It shows that beyond the level of sporting performance there is a very strong human dimension, given that the sporting challenge is a difficult one. It also showcases top-of-the-range technological innovation. Our goal, through a dialogue between WorldSupercars and Esteban, was to show the extent to which both technological and human effort within this domain have contributed to the development of our newest ranges.             

What has been your communication strategy during the Covid-19 lockdowns?

E.G.: Everyone was taken by surprise. Our aim was to support the group's activity not only when it stopped but also when it resumed. The priority was to communicate with our employees. It was firstly an internal communications challenge.

With regards to external (and digital) communication, it was first and foremost about showing the solidarity-based initiatives carried out by Groupe Renault, which took place all over the world, while also seeking to inform: donations, volunteering work, medical equipment, protective visors, priority vehicle maintenance (for ambulances and police vehicles). We wanted to inform people and give value to initiatives stemming from our teams but without overdoing it. It was above all not about launching paid campaigns on the topic, as that would have been misplaced. In my view, it was about adopting a very classic style of corporate communication.

It is my conviction that it was preferable to avoid "alibi-style" marketing and communication campaigns with explicit references to the fact people were being confined to their homes. It's of course a very serious situation and we're still not out of the woods yet. As a group, amid the current situation, it's about adopting a humble communication style. In parallel, we have sought to maintain the link with our audience by speaking about subjects that are more distanced from the business side of things but still a fundamental part of our DNA: subjects highlighting innovation (concept cars), social commitments (CSR), revisiting the 120-year history of the group and previously unseen insights into our Formula 1 commitments. And all of this while favouring visual and audio content as well as articles in order to keep telling the company's story to our evolving communities.

For the resumption of our activities, we had a clear priority of course: to support the product plan for our new range of hybrid vehicles, notably by explaining the innovative dimension behind these products and the way they had been developed by our engineers.

What impact has Covid-19 had on your way of communicating?     

E.G.: Given that the crisis is still not over, when we look at things at a global level, it is still far too soon to draw any conclusions regarding the marketing or communication lessons that have been learnt. One thing, however, is for sure: our budgets have been strongly impacted. This means a redefinition of our priorities. There is a trend that is emerging, as revealed by a recent Cision study, which is: we will perhaps continue to opt more for the social media route or that of the added value of creative influences and targeted content.

Our event-oriented activities have been dealt a severe blow, as it is currently impossible to implement them in their classic format for health reasons. This pushed us to ask ourselves a question: how will we unveil new vehicles to the public? Normally, in our sector, this is something that is done during car shows. Today, all manufacturers are adopting more hybrid approaches between the digital and the physical. Vehicles continue to be accessible to journalists and of course continue to be presented to the public at large, but there will be much more of a digital approach along with complementary features. This will happen not only on social media but also via web sites, with possible 360° vehicle immersion options in order to have complementary and interactive information. It's all about finding the right balance.
«Instagram meets the key criteria for capturing audience's attention with snackable content, from a visual, aspirational and informative viewpoint.»

What are your preferred platforms?

E.G.: Instagram has seen an unquestionable rise in influence in recent years, with, in my view, a fair balance between the feed and stories, domains in which this social network continues to push the envelope. Innovations are never in short supply, to the point where it could damage the user's experience, as was the case with people turning away from Snapchat. For a car maker, Instagram meets the key criteria for the capturing audience's attention with snackable content, from a visual, aspirational and informative viewpoint, thanks to its stories. You just have to keep a eye out for innovation in the social media ecosystem, without falling into the systematisation trap. Today, it is clearly in a corporate brand's interest to test the voice Tweet options launched by Twitter this week, but on the other hand I'm less sure that it has its place on Tik Tok.
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