In the last several years, the transportation industry has rolled out technological advancements at an unprecedented rate. Instead of slowing down, industry analysts expect much more to come in the near future, especially from automated vehicle technology. The way we move from place to place 20 years from now may look very different from how we commute in 2017. 

With these changes, the industry must help clear the way for new innovations to be accepted and adopted by implementing more dynamic information campaigns, targeting both consumers and industry influencers.

For example, one particular line of new technology has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives each year. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) includes the increased implementation of collision avoidance technologies on its “Most Wanted List,” citing statistics that show driver error is the single biggest factor in highway crashes.

Examples of these technologies are forward collision warning systems and autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning systems, and blind spot detection. Considering that 35,000 people died in traffic accidents in 2015, and 94 percent of highway crashes are due to driver error, automated vehicle technology can make traveling on roadways exponentially more safe.

Despite the literal life-saving benefits of these new technologies, however, they are not yet widely used. Many drivers are understandably wary of relinquishing control of their movements. This lack of control is why so many people are afraid of flying instead of driving—they aren’t steering the ship. Additionally, failures in the technology received a lot of media attention, fueling public uncertainty.

In February 2016, one of Google’s self-driving cars caused its first crash. The cars had previously driven more than 1.3 million miles and were involved in only 17 crashes, all caused by human error.

In March of this year, Uber suspended its self-driving vehicle program after one of its cars was involved in a crash where the other driver was at fault. Unfortunately, as is common with other forms of transportation, these crashes are more widely publicized and scrutinized than the millions of safely navigated miles.

To help usher in the inevitable upgrade to automated vehicle technology in passenger vehicles and the eventual rollout of completely autonomous vehicles, marketers need to employ a mix of strategies that do the following:

  • Create awareness of and educate the public about the technology
  • Convince the public that the benefits of the technology far outweigh the risks
  • Provide opportunities for people to evaluate the technology

Strategies should focus on early adopters as they tend to have more influence over their peers. Sometimes, they are also easier to market to, since they more actively seek out information. If these audiences are made aware of something that interests them, they will research it and try it. If they like it, they will become advocates for it.

It’s also important to get industry influencers on board at the beginning and provide opportunities for people to evaluate the technology.

Car enthusiasts may look at consumer reports or talk to their friendly local car dealer to learn more about the adaptive cruise control or blind spot detection. They may read blog posts written on TechCrunch to find out where and how they can catch a ride with a driverless vehicle. These people are considered “experts” on the subject and consumers will seek out their opinions.

Although the challenges with marketing automated vehicle technology may be unique, one key strategy remains: word of mouth is, and perhaps always will be, the best marketing tool we have.

Casey Self, APR, is the marketing manager at Perceptics, LLC, and the president-elect of the Volunteer Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, which sponsors this column.

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