General Motors has released an update to OnStar, its in-vehicle assistance system, that allows subscribers to book hotels directly with an agent.
The subscription service, which is available across the GM line of vehicles, allows a driver to simply press the OnStar button and then work with the agent to make a reservation at a hotel.
The feature is part of a promising new marketing initiative called AtYourService, and it's not limited to just hotels. Users will be able to book restaurants and receive coupons from participating businesses right from the car.
Initial partners include Priceline.com for inventory, and national retailers such as Dunkin' Donuts on the coupon side.
OnStar's scale and scope make AtYourService an immediate contender
The OnStar system receives over 35 million direction requests and supports over 53 million mobile app interactions in the US and Canada alone. Given the massive stream of interactions, it's no wonder that GM is using the "P" word: platform. It's building a platform for direct external engagement within the vehicle to be leverage by outside partners.
This new platform-as-a-service offers businesses a brand-new mobile and local engagement channel. This "vehicle marketing" could realistically give mobile social media networks like Facebook and Twitter a run for their money, as a driving vehicle has the ability to actually move a consumer to a business faster than feet. Targeting nearby consumers before they even stop and pick up their phones is an exciting prospect for many small business owners.
For example, it's easy to envision integrating with Starbucks new pre-order service: a driver can ask OnStar to place a standing order, which would then be placed into the order queue as the car approaches the store (using its GPS to communicate).
Car rental companies also have a compelling up-sell opportunity when it comes to offering either OnStar access for road-tripping renters, or by developing a competing offering via existing platforms such as Hertz NeverLost.
In some respects, the OnStar system was the original Siri, except that it's a real person at the other end of the line. The button has been installed in cars since 1996, with a major upgrade alongside cellular communications in 2008. This is only one year after the original iPhone was released in 2007, demonstrating how much of an early mover in direct, person-to-person communication the system has been.
Blurring lines continue
These rolling digital outposts are blurring the lines between device and vehicle.
By offering a new role for its customer service assistants, GM is adapting to the digital world by increasing OnStar's utility as a way to break through the digital noise and complete tasks directly with a human being.
As cars are a primary means of travel, the travel industry must seize the importance of combining the car and the app for a seamless consumer experience. This also benefits businesses with increased revenue from drivers of digitally-enhanced vehicles - just as restaurants became a part of travel in 2014, cars are clearly becoming deeply integrated into the travel infrastructure in 2015.
For a bit of history, OnStar worked on an early native advert marketing campaign as a sponsor of American reality TV show Real World: New Orleans. Here's a bit of humor that developed out of the show - it is the first Monday of the year after all!