Detroit Startup Powers Pebble Beach Concours

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Usually on the third weekend in August, car enthusiast Kevin Smith and his team can be found strolling Woodward Avenue in metro Detroit at the annual celebration of style and horsepower, the Woodward Dream Cruise. This year, however, Smith was working, unveiling his company’s Virtual Voice of the Customer collaborative design tool at the Lincoln brand display at Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance, Aug. 20-21.

Smith’s company, Detroit start-up 360 brandmachine, developed Virtual Voice of the Customer to change how marketers engage with consumers in the vehicle design process. The patented software platform allows a tech-enabled real-time exchange of ideas, designs and communication between a company’s design team and its customers. This rapid exchange of ideas in a virtual environment allows designers to test design concepts quickly and efficiently. Virtual Voice has the potential to save months in product development and millions of dollars with transformational co-design technology. The end result will be more design hits and fewer design misses.

“Lincoln and its ad agency Team Detroit have been the ideal partner for our Virtual Voice technology,” said Smith. “Throughout their organization there is a real sense of embracing new ideas, working collaboratively between functions and developing design and technology that resonate with consumers. At Pebble Beach, we are just scratching the surface as to what this tool can do for the brand and Lincoln’s ability to engage thought-leading luxury consumers.”

Set up inside the Automotive Fine Arts Society tent at the Pebble Beach Concours, 360 brandmachine’s interactive tablets loaded with Virtual Voice of the Customer will be part of the Lincoln brand display and will sit across the aisle from far more traditional classic car paintings and sculptures. Attendees will be invited to participate in an interactive design experience that begins by selecting one of Lincoln’s top three heritage designs and moves through a series of virtual design sketches of modern vehicles inspired by the classics. Attendees will be asked to identify their favorite designs, providing Lincoln with insights from an influential cross-section of customers.

Smith assembled a team of Detroit based advertising, market research and software development executives to form 360 brandmachine — a new idea company that is a hybrid of a business consultancy, a communications and design firm and a tech start-up.

Previously, the company developed a series of co-created automotive designs ranging from a next- generation pony-car, to a vehicle expressly designed for the Millennial generation of buyers. The group has also worked on global automotive branding assignments for various carmakers. The Pebble Beach Concours project is the most publicly visible event that 360 brandmachine has been involved with to date, and Lincoln provides the perfect venue to introduce Virtual Voice to the market.

“Virtual Voice technology is a great way for us to celebrate luxury automotive design in a sophisticated and technologically savvy manner,” said Jim Peters, Lincoln Experiential Manager. “Our excitement at Lincoln revolves around the ability to use the technology within the right marketing initiatives to create social experiments that center around design, technology and most importantly sustaining a dialogue with prospects through the idea of co-creation.”

Added Smith: “Crowdsourcing and co-creation are increasingly gaining buzz in marketing and product design circles. When ‘Autopocalypse’ hit Detroit, it was an opportunity, if not a necessity, to re-set. Major change was forced upon the car business but it was also happening in the advertising and marketing world over time. I wanted to create ‘the next thing’ and saw the new approaches of crowdsourcing, collaborative marketing and co-creation as places where the most interesting ideas were happening.  We wanted to build something in that space with the smartest and hardest working people I could find, and Detroit is full of them. This is a Detroit idea, born and developed here. We’ll let Silicon Valley have a look soon.”

Cathy Condit is Smith’s partner in 360 brandmachine and Virtual Voice LLC.  Like Smith, and others on the 360 brandmachine team, Condit is an auto industry veteran, born in Detroit with over 20 years of diverse automotive marketing experience. The group is an entrepreneurial collection of diverse talent from car designers like Tom Southworth and Anthony Zingalie to IT innovation led by Bob and Chris Sheaves to research project leadership from Jaron Rothkop and Steve Hallman.

“What we’re building here is a response to a marketing world that continues to move from push, to pull and now increasingly engagement,” said Condit. “The reality is that more than ever, we live in a world where the best product wins and it’s about having conversations versus pushing a marketing message at people. We want to help marketers build better products but also help them engage in conversations and tell better stories. What you see with the Pebble Beach engagement is just Act I in a far bigger play. There is much more that this tool can do not only in design & marketing but also in global product development. Stay tuned.”

For more information on 360 brandmachine and Virtual Voice, feel free to contact Kevin Smith at (248) 761-7822, or Cathy Condit at (586) 805-0521.

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