The auto industry is currently facing its biggest shift to date—a systematic descent into widespread electric and self-driving technologies. And this means facing a host of new challenges, one of which is fostering brand loyalty in an automotive market that is quickly becoming unrecognizable. As these progressive technologies continually pull consumers away from “traditional” driving, automakers and aftermarket professionals are finding themselves in a delicate balancing act. Not only do they need to keep up with ever-evolving consumer tastes and emerging trends, but they also need to find ways to retain the customers they already have—customers who are diverse, informed, and savvy about comparison retail shopping.
E-commerce has indisputably changed the landscape in which we shop. Let’s be honest, online retail has, in many ways, leveled the playing field across a number of industries. How? By giving smaller merchants a sales platform they previously had no access to. Or helping quality brands dominate niche markets. But the boom of online shopping has also cheapened brand loyalty. As more companies vie for attention, they dazzle with big-budget marketing campaigns, eye-catching promotions, big discounts, and enticing rewards programs. And yes, many of them work. But the over-inundation of advertising and sales info is downright jading. One could argue it causes a portion of consumers to become less concerned with brand loyalty and more interested in just saving a buck.
We all know that attracting new business is a worthy endeavor, but keeping the customers you have is equally important—and often pays off more in the end. But if the name of the game is changing, where does that leave us in the auto industry? Is brand loyalty a hand still worth playing?
Is brand loyalty dead?
“Brand loyalty isn’t dead,” says entrepreneur and Forbes contributor Jaysen DeMers, “but it has diversified.” He explains that thanks to the internet-led “information age”, a growing national distrust of corporations, and a complete paradigm shift in the way that people work, consumers now approach shopping more pragmatically. And these shoppers generally fall into two roughly-sketched categories, of which there is considerable overlap. Generally speaking though, there are those who are satisfied with a brand and those who are committed to a brand. “Brand loyalists are driven by emotions, at least to some degree, when going back to their favorite companies, while the repeat purchasers are driven solely by function,” he says. The trick is to appeal to both categories, and to turn satisfied repeat customers into loyal advocates for your brand.
Consider Apple. With such a significant portion of market share in the tech industry, the company has become almost synonymous with cellphone technology. They not only offer a great product, but they sell a philosophy and a lifestyle as well, ensuring a nearly-rabid fan base that will defend them throughout any controversy. Similarly, companies like Amazon and IKEA dominate their markets because of their excellent ability to translate customer feedback into quality service. And in the world of automotive, we see names like Ford and Chevy thriving off their brands’ longevity, foreign automakers like Toyota and Subaru growing consistently through targeted advertising, and luxury brands like Porsche using its prestige to sell something as basic as an SUV.
So, what can we learn from the success of these giant brands?
Well, first, brand loyalty isn’t necessarily impaired by the fact that internet retail allows for more product opportunity. More likely, it’s the way in which those products are determined to be good or bad that’s hurting customer loyalty. The advent of online shopping has allowed consumers to buy goods based on product ratings from a variety of websites. With such resources readily available, buyers can be less influenced by their past experiences with a particular brand—even one they’ve come to love—especially if credible reviews suggest that a different brand offers a comparable product for less money. Similarly, once shoppers sift through all those reviews and settle on a product, what’s to stop them from doing a simple online search to find the seller with the best price? While this is great for consumers, it often leads to price wars and slim margins for businesses.
So, is brand loyalty still worth pursuing?
Yes! It is this glaring threat to brand loyalty that makes it so important. Having a brand that people aspire to own a piece of will undoubtedly help a company weather the storm of fickle consumer tastes. WARN, Fab Fours, Rigid Industries—are all examples of brands that transform one time enthusiast purchases into repeat customers. Like Apple, their large-scale success is tied to a philosophy and lifestyle.
So, how does one go about improving their brand loyalty?
By nurturing it! Just like you must maintain your vehicle, you must maintain your brand. It needs a clean image, some fine tuning, and modifications where appropriate. Research has proven that customers respond to a brand that engages with its audience. So, jazz up that website and ramp up the social media interactions. Answer customer questions, troubleshoot negative reviews, and train your employees to provide quality service. If it’s in the budget, consider a loyalty or birthday program to reward current customers. This doesn’t mean you need to launch expensive and in-depth media campaigns. It simply means that you should keep communication lines open so that you can form solid relationships with your customers.
And brand loyalty goes beyond the product on the shelf.
As for brand loyalty and how it applies to shop owners, keep in mind that by the time a customer walks into your store or snoops around your website, they often already know more about you than you know about them. And if potential shoppers are forming their opinions about your brand based on the information they read online or hear from another person, doesn’t it make sense to find a way to control that information? That’s what engaging with your audience allows you to do. You get to tell the story that best represents that brand you worked so hard to develop—just like Magnaflow, just like Iron Cross, and just like Edelbrock. Just remember that to maintain that respected status in a market segment, the products and services you supply have to be as good as your good name.