Last year, Hyundai’s CEO called the car the “ultimate mobile device,” a statement that was echoed in the tech world by Apple Senior Vice President Jeff Williams.

The technology industry truly has embraced cars as mobile devices, albeit the most expensive anyone owns, so it’s not surprising CES 2017 was the scene of several auto-tech announcements.

With advances in voice recognition and consumer acceptance of digital assistants, carmakers are scrambling to build that technology into their cars. BMW and Nissan plan to integrate Microsoft’s virtual assistant Cortana into their vehicles, while Ford says it will include Amazon’s Alexa. Hyundai already offers Alexa and now plans to integrate Google’s Assistant into its connected-car offering known as Blue Link.

This is just one example of the increasing move of consumer apps, content and services into the connected car. How can automakers decide on the best technology and software partnerships for their brand and their customers?

Partnerships, At a Glance

There undoubtedly are major technical and business considerations to evaluate in auto partnerships, but the business-development and marketing executives who negotiate technology deals should prioritize one thing: what their target customers want.

Certainly, automakers conduct market research and host focus groups; but with sophisticated consumer insights and data available today, brands can get a much quicker and more accurate snapshot of their customers’ preferences – and how those overlap with the offerings of a potential technology partner.

At the same time, technology and software companies looking to partner with automakers can use consumer data to identify the best auto brand to co-brand with.

Evaluating Shared Audience

Let’s take the example of Spotify. Suppose four major auto brands, Toyota, Hyundai, Nissan and Honda, are vying for an exclusive partnership with Spotify. They want to offer car buyers a free 2-year subscription to the service, along with a special interactive Spotify experience integrated with the in-car app.

How can Spotify select the best car company to partner with? If you measure auto-buyer segments against Spotify app users, there appears to be a clear winner in terms of overlap.

Spotify’s overlapping audience percentage with key auto brands:

  • Toyota: 7.93%.
  • Honda: 6.95%.
  • Hyundai: 5.35%.
  • Nissan: 4.68%.

Not only does Toyota have the largest shared audience with Spotify, its buyers also are 19% more likely than the average person to have or use Spotify.

Weighing Consumer Attributes

Perhaps Spotify wants to partner with an automotive brand that could build on its current user base. There are several data points available to compare existing Spotify users against the customer attributes for the various auto brands, such as age. For example, the largest Spotify user group is made up of 25- to 34-year olds.

The largest age group for Nissan also is age 25-34, so that brand is an ideal match for Spotify when it comes to shared audience.

However, if Spotify wants to tap into a younger market, a partnership with Hyundai would expand their exposure to 18- to 24-year olds. They are the largest age group in the Hyundai audience by far, at 29%.

Consumer Attitudes

Perhaps just as important as consumer demographics, consumer attitudes can help automakers understand and predict the features, technologies and entertainment services their customers want and need.

Let’s start with Honda owners, who are more likely to value comfort and longevity in a car. Their attitudes seem to negate any interest in car add-ons or fancy features, perhaps making them less than an ideal fit for a special interactive Spotify experience:

  • Before buying a car, I find out about the car’s safety rating” – 13% more likely to agree.
  • “Options on a car impress me” – 21% more likely to disagree.
  • “I prefer driving a luxury vehicle” – 19% more likely to disagree.

Toyota owners enjoy going on long car trips and usually drive without passengers. These are all situations in which having good music could be important. They are also slightly more likely to want additional options with a new car, which is promising for an “add-on” like Spotify:

  • “I often go on long car trips for vacations” – 18% more likely to agree.
  • “I normally drive without any passengers” – 13% more likely to agree.
  • “I get many of the options when I buy a car” – 8% more likely to agree.

Meanwhile, Nissan owners have the strongest automobile opinions in general and are much more likely to select a car based on how it looks. They also are more likely than other car buyers to pay a lot for technology they want and buy many of the options available in a new car. This group may be an ideal attitudinal fit for a Spotify partnership:

  • “I'll pay just about anything for an electronic product that I really want” – 15% more likely to agree.
  • “I choose a car mainly on the basis of looks” – 27% more likely to agree.
  • “I get many of the options when I buy a car” – 35% more likely to agree.

Depending on the goal, there are many different data points an auto brand (or technology brand) could use to evaluate the best potential partnership. The key is to identify an objective, whether it’s to support your main customer base or expand to a new market segment through an edgy technology integration, and then leverage the right audience data to identify which partnerships will get you there.

There will always be room for “going with the gut,” but in the competitive automotive sector, the company with the best data wins.

Source: Data pulled using Hitwise’s AudienceView tool. Overlap of Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and Nissan buyers against Spotify app users was pulled over a 4-week period ending 1/21/2017. Spotify age demographics pulled over a 4-week period ending 2/25/2017 based on Spotify app users, website visitors and searchers. Auto brand demographic and attitudinal attributes pulled over a 4-week period ending 2/18/2017.

Rochelle Bailis is director-Content & Insights at Connexity's Hitwise. She directs global content marketing strategy, email campaigns, lead generation & nurture, editorial calendar, data visualization, social media, and industry reports on retail, travel, finance, news & media.