How autonomous cars will benefit digital marketers

In recent years, the term “self-driving car” has become a buzzword in both the automobile and tech industry. With Tesla, Google, Mercedes, and BMW making rapid headway, the day will soon come when autonomous cars are familiar sites. Several trial runs have already taken place across the globe.

An AAA report released in September 2016 found that American drivers spend an average of 17,600 minutes behind the wheel each year. That’s roughly equivalent to seven 40-hour weeks.

According to a recent study released by Intel, the cumulative revenue generated by the autonomous car industry is estimated to increase from $800 billion in 2035 (the base year of the study) to $7 trillion by 2050. The study also predicts that around 585,000 lives could be saved due to self-driving vehicles between 2035 to 2045.

Autonomous vehicles will not only change the way we transport people and goods, but will also usher in a new era of digital marketing.

Here’s how autonomous vehicles will open new doors for digital marketers in future.

A treasure trove of big data

With our ever-increasing use of sophisticated technology, big data has already become an integral part of our personal and professional lives. The rise of self-driving vehicles will only take this further, resulting in a massive increase of data production. Just one autonomous car will use 4,000 GB of data per day. Car sensors will generate most of the data for driving purposes. However, the amount of user-generated data will also be significantly more than our present internet use.

More consumer data means more monetization opportunities. For example, by collecting the data related to traffic, driving patterns, and driver behavior during their journey, retailers will be able to determine their stores’ footprint and inventory more accurately. They will also be able to segment the type of customers driving in front of their stores to create highly focused marketing campaigns. The data will further tailored advertisements and promotions.

Location-based marketing

Though online shopping is on the rise, most consumers still prefer to shop at brick-and-mortar stores. According to a recent survey by eMarketer, nearly two out of every three US shoppers prefer in-store purchases rather than online shopping. In 2017, the three most preferred online shopping categories were books, toys and games, and entertainment. According to PWC, 70% of global shoppers still prefer to purchase groceries in a physical store.

Even in the future, people are more likely to buy products such as clothing, apparel, jewelry, electronic appliances, and groceries from physical shops.

Autonomous vehicles will mean that digital marketers will have plenty of opportunities for location-based marketing. Consider this scenario in a not-so-distant future: You are driving home from a long and tiring day at the office. You are about to pass a Taco Bell. Your car may display or even play an audio message asking, “Are you hungry? Would you like to stop at the Taco Bell just 2 minutes away from your current location? Say yes if so.” Your car may even be able to place a customized order on the go and make the payment as well. All you'd need to do is grab your burrito at the checkout counter or in the drive thru.

Personalized marketing

Even today, vehicles are one of the most popular advertising platforms. We still see advertisement posters, stickers, and fliers on cars, buses, and trucks. Driverless cars will mark the beginning of a new era of advertisement. As manual driving will no longer be needed, passengers will be able to go online anytime they wish. In other words, digital marketers will have the undivided attention of the passengers.

But, most importantly, the data collected by the car’s computer, such as the destination of the journey, personal preferences of their occupants, and the overall condition of the vehicle, will allow brands to craft personalized advertisements. For example, if you are going to an outdoor park, you could receive personalized ads related to kayaking, camping and hiking. You will also learn about local restaurants, pubs, museums and other recreational activities according to your personal preferences. For example, a vegetarian will get ads of local vegetarian restaurants, and adults will get information about nightclubs and pubs.

Recently, Adobe Systems Inc launched an artificial intelligence feature called Sensei. The software will help digital marketers analyze the data collected from self-driving cars and produce personalized audio ads accordingly. It can capture behavioral data like music preferences, voice interactions with the car’s computer, and real-time location. It can help brands send relevant news, offers, and advertisements. Though still in its infancy, Sensei offers us a glimpse into the future.

Sponsored drop-offs and map listings

As a digital marketer, you are probably aware of the Google Maps listings. This feature allows local businesses to add and edit business information on maps in addition to the overall web. Companies can also pay extra to get higher visibility on social media. In the era of autonomous vehicles, local businesses will be able to get sponsored (paid) listings on maps to attract shoppers in the vicinity.

Autonomous vehicles (particularly the ones used for public transport such as cabs) will give rise to a new type of affiliate marketing. Let’s say you are visiting a city for the first time and decide to take a self-driving cab. When you tell the cab computer to take you to the most popular pub in the neighborhood, it may take you to a sponsored drop-off. Local businesses could attract more traffic through this type of affiliate marketing.

Self-driving cars have already been tested for numerous sections of the road. As the market rapidly moves towards intelligent transportation, more opportunities grow for digital marketers. Understanding how this disruptive innovation will change digital marketing in the coming decades will help you ride the change smoothly. In the meantime, keep your eyes and ears open to track the latest developments in this area.


Phong Ly is the CEO and co-founder of, a search engine that uses big data to help people find the best car deals through its free VIN Reports. He has more than 15 years of business and high tech experience at large companies like SAP and Deloitte, and in the start-p world creating mobile software. Regularly featured in media such as ABC News, CNBC, Forbes, USA Today, Fortune and Reuters, Ly earned his MBA from Harvard Business School and BSE from Princeton.