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Some call them people

Why data needs humans in today’s automobile industry


Mike Bentley

EVP, Global Chief Strategy Officer





The automobile industry today is in a very interesting place. In some senses, it’s seeing a return to the period of a century ago, when it first began to take off. Back then, speculative technologies abounded, and brands proliferated, as innovation and experimentation flourished. Consumers could find hundreds of brands in the market along with many different ways of operating a vehicle. For example, the universal layout of driver controls that we all now know was at one point just one of many experimental designs.


Similarly today, a wide range of established and startup automotive and digital brands are interacting with one another in a sea of experimentation and innovation. Only a bold or foolish forecaster would state with a high degree of confidence exactly what the winners will look like. However, some things are clear. As the current data-rich tidal wave of digital technology washes over the industry, the relationship between brands and customers is changing in fundamental ways.


These changes are, of course, driven by technology, but not in an obvious or linear fashion. Few products are like automotive vehicles when it comes to generating data—the sheer volume of it produced by traveling in four dimensions is astounding. The data streams we’ll be able to collect about individual drivers include mood, behavior, physical location, and proximity to people and brand locations, among many others. Technology and the real-time comprehension of this data will offer unprecedented abilities for brands to build relationships through experiences.


If not carefully and delicately deployed, however, this could prove a double-edged sword. In an era where trust is eroding dramatically, a trusted relationship is becoming a precious commodity. Again and again, consumers say they want trust more than innovation, technology, or even relevance.


This is a paradox. The step-change in technology has triggered a rise in the need for human decisions and behaviors that create trust. People are beginning to see many aspects of the digital world as divisive and broadly undermining trust, and, more than ever before, it can be broken instantly and permanently. Technology, initially viewed as displacing humans, has in a very real sense made them and their actions more critical to brands.


In the automotive world, that paradox must be navigated through a seamless, blended interface of human interaction and data-driven insight. That experience must be valued by customers, not merely seen as intrusive selling or generating “that creepy feeling.” Demonstrating that a brand genuinely has its customers’ best interests at heart requires brands (and the people inside them) to behave the right way and make the right decisions. Regardless of the technological twists and turns in the industry—whether in mobility services, alternative powertrains, and so on—we will see the increased importance of humans in delivering a valued and trusted consumer experience.


This suggests that the activity of people within an organization and their ability to parse oceans of data into meaningful insights and valuable experiences demands a worldview that places customers at the center. In an era where AI and computers seem ever more threatening, mysterious, and yet fashionable, it will be humans who understand humans that create the strongest, most viable automotive brands.


If this piece of forecasting seems counterintuitive or out of step with the bold predictions of AI taking over the world, pop down to your local Apple Genius Bar and try reading it there.