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Perfectly attuned to the customers

The Audi Innovation Research (AIR) Beijing team serves as the Four Rings’ eyes and ears—investigating the complex and dynamic developments in the carmaker’s largest single market.

Copy: Jan Strahl - Illustrationen: Jonas Götz Reading Time: 3 min

On the illustration there are several partly pulsating circles in different colors and shapes, which are connected by regularly recurring lines.

Understanding the market and customers helps Audi to improve products

What do Chinese drivers take with them in their vehicles? And where do they put their mobile phones, tea bottles or badminton rackets? While this may seem like a banal question, it’s a seed that grows into interesting scenarios harnessed by product developers, engineers and designers to ensure customers enjoy the ultimate in convenience and comfort. It’s not enough to know what drivers take along with them. It’s also important to ask why they don’t put those items in the trunk. And how does the driver now go about opening the door and placing the item securely in the passenger compartment? Do people in China carry these items with them far more frequently than anywhere else in the world? Would it make sense to offer a holder or tray for this object?


In the highly dynamic Chinese automotive market, questions like these and, of course, their answers can be the make or break for customer loyalty and purchase decisions. Chinese customers are mad about technical gadgets, carefully conceived design features and have a high demand for digital solutions and services—even more so than consumers in other corners of the world. Competition is fierce in China. That’s why speed, above all else, plays a vital role when developing solutions. Whatever the industry, an agile approach is key to adapting products and tailoring them to regional needs.

In the picture you can see various circular formations, some of them connected with each other. At regular intervals, other red circles are formed, which connect with each other by lines.

Upping speed and accuracy in tomorrow’s market research

Mastering these challenges requires the formulation of target-orientated questions and the development of extremely innovative answers to these challenges. The Four Rings’ team in China, however, is a dedicated unit that employs cutting-edge tools and has a name to match—Audi Innovation Research, or AIR for short. “AIR is much more than a market research department. Of course, we also use traditional approaches such as quantitative surveys or focus group discussions,” explains Scott Zhao, Head of AIR China, “but we use a lot of innovative approaches, many of which we developed ourselves. One of our most innovative tools at the moment is probably the Audi Innovators Circle (AIC).” Comprising over 800 consumers from the Audi target group in China, this community is digitally connected via a popular chat app that is not only installed on almost every smartphone in China but is also part of everyday life for people there. Thanks to this direct contact with the survey groups and their flexibility, responses can be obtained very quickly. What’s more, these “trend scouts” provide reliable, high-quality feedback. “In a two-week period, we collect around 200 to 300 quantitative responses and 20 to 30 well-founded, qualitative insights,” says Zhao. “If it’s urgent, we can even get it done in a week. AIC enjoys an unusually high average response rate of 40 to 50 percent. Peak values go up to 70 percent.” It’s worth remembering that by no means every survey question revolves around user experience with a car or specific vehicle functions. The research also focuses on the target group’s general lifestyle and perceptions of the Audi brand.

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Key findings from customer feedback

AIC subscribers have four function tiles on the chat app mini program’s home screen. One of them features the key function of quantitative survey questions with single/multiple choice questions on topics like lifestyle or brand perception. Another tile contains the quick poll, which is a series of questions on innocuous conversation topics that can be answered with a quick tap of the finger. A third tile serves as a news section with all the latest from the world of Audi. The final content block is devoted to qualitative feedback. Here, respondents can enter their own answers, upload images and spark entire discussions. This section is, for instance, also where participants were able to chat about items they put inside their vehicles–as described above. Basically, it is intended for customers' wishes, questions and suggestions about products and services, which are addressed as topics in this forum. "Sometimes it's just about developing a better feel for the customer in general," says Zhao. "But often it's about clarifying uncertainties in the product development and decision-making process. In this case, customer feedback can decide about very specific details in the setup of a feature." Unsurprisingly, AIR China’s ingenious use of the Audi Innovators Circle is inspiring other Audi markets to adopt the same approach. Even without surveys and statistics, it should be abundantly clear that the Middle Kingdom is driving the trend for agile market research tools integrated into customers’ digital ecosystems.

Audi e-tron drives in a major Asian city.

Insights into the Middle Kingdom

The Audi Innovation Research (AIR) Office in Beijing acts as the brand’s eyes and ears in the complex and fascinating Chinese (automotive) market.

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German model shown. Stated specifications apply only in Germany and are not applicable in other regions.

Audi e-tron: Power consumption (combined) in kWh/100 km: 26.1–21.7CO₂ emissions (combined) in g/km: 0CO₂ emission class: A

German model shown. Stated specifications apply only in Germany and are not applicable in other regions.