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As Strong as Steel: Brand Loyalty Among Auto Consumers

Strong steel chains
Brand loyalty is everywhere, from cell phones and TVs to clothing and car companies.

In a world of increased competition, there is a reassurance among auto manufacturers that part of their buyers will make a repeat purchase the next time around.

Many companies, including Experian and Polk, track brand loyalty for cars. In Experian’s recent report, Ford was at the top of brand loyalty, with 44.1 percent of Ford owners who return and buy or lease another Ford vehicle. Toyota came in second with 43.3 percent and Kia took third place with 39.9 percent.

Ford also took the top two ranks for brand loyalty by model. The Ford Fusion and the Flex were the top two models for brand loyalty, ranking at 56.4 percent and 55.3 percent respectively.

In fact, Ford took seven out of ten spots in the top ten for brand loyalty by model with the Fusion, Flex, Edge, Five Hundred, Fiesta, Escape, and Focus.

Polk, another brand loyalty tracking company, ranked Ford high, and the automotive company won several awards for 2012 including the award for the overall loyalty to manufacturer, as well as for overall loyalty to make.

A New Breed of Dedication

Davis Speight, General Manager for Dallas-based Starwood Motors, said people are driven to retain brand loyalty due to consistency and community.

He also said Facebook and other social media outlets are a “big driving factor to how people perceive the brand as well as their connection with the brand.”

“People follow the brands that they enjoy,” he said. “They are able to stay on top of those brands and the products that are introduced. They want to be the first to get those products.”

Speight said the anticipation and long lines that occur during a new iPhone debut shows the level of dedication that consumers have for a brand. And this translates to even larger items such as cars.

For the 2013 model of the Jeep Wrangler, Speight said he had customers calling up to a year in advance requesting their names to be placed on a waiting list. Due to social media and buzz, they were aware of the model’s features including a new engine.

“It’s one of those things that people have to have the latest and the greatest,” he said. “They have had experience with the product before and they know it’s a product they can trust.”

Loyalty Without Logic

But loyalty does not always equate to quality.

Sometimes consumers continue to purchase cars that are, in reality, not the highest performing cars.

Kristin Brocoff, Director of Corporate Communications for CarMD, said that a consumer’s brand preference does not always align with the reality of performance.

CarMD released their annual Vehicle Health Index rating which tracks historical repair data to see how often vehicles are in the shop, what repairs are needed, and the average cost to fix the problems.

The CarMD report conflicted with the Experian loyalty rankings. The Experian top-ranked Ford brand ranked number nine in their top 10, whereas Toyota, Hyundai and BMW ranked in the top three respectively.

But Toyota linked up in a logical manner. For both the Experian and CarMD reports, it ranked high.

According to the CarMD report, Toyota ranked the highest in terms of reliability due to a low number of check engine-related repair incidents as well as a low average repair cost.

“Statistics show that Toyota vehicles simply don’t need to go into the shop for repairs very often. It makes sense that this would correlate with consumer brand loyalty,” Brocoff said to loans.org. “Let’s face it. If you get to enjoy driving your car versus spending time at the shop having it repaired, you’re likely to be loyal to that brand.”

Regardless of the brand loyalty reports, Brocoff said that statistical data is more important because it shows reliability. But in the end, each person has their own preferences for what makes a good car brand.

“You may want to drive the same type of truck that your father and your father’s father drove. Or perhaps a person’s need for towing capacity outweighs the vehicle’s overall reliability rating,” she said. “If brand loyalty makes someone happy, they are proud to drive the vehicle they chose and they feel they got a good value, then who are we to judge?”

‘Do or Die’

Brand loyalty and satisfaction are important for more than purely emotional satisfaction, but rather economic satisfaction.

If consumers are unhappy with their purchase, a monthly auto loan payment will likely be more mentally difficult to repay. Some consumers will be forced to decide which bill is more important to repay, and for Speight, a logical sense comes into play.

Speight said he would approach a financial decision as a “do or die.”

“Do I have to have my car in order to survive? Do I have to have to have a boat to survive, no I do not,” he said.

When everything is reduced, Speight said consumers should focus on necessities, not luxuries.

“I really think it comes down to survival,” he said. “If they are going to make decisions, they are going to make the decisions that are right for their family. Even though the boat is their passion, the car will drive them.”

But everyone does not follow the same sense of logic.

Speight mentioned a client of his that lost his house to foreclosure because he was maintaining payments on a boat.  Speight disagreed with his client’s decision.

“I think about me personally and I’m going to take care of my family first,” he said.

Loyal From the Start

Although social media is a main drive for brand loyalty now, Speight doesn’t think loyalty of this kind is a new concept. Through his 18 years of experience in the auto industry, he said the medium has simply changed. In the past, brand loyalty was driven by a connection between people and their cars.

Speight said that during his childhood, his father used a John Deere tractor on the family farm. If Speight were to go buy a tractor now, he said it would be a John Deere.

“I think it comes down to what they grew up with as a kid or what they grew up dreaming about as a kid,” he said.

He then questioned, “Where do dreams start in regards to a product?”

He said it begins with posters in a childhood bedroom and advertisements and then transitions to social media.

With or without social media, a dedication to brands has existed in some manner for decades.

“[Brand loyalty has] always been there — it’s just that we talk about it more and it’s more visible. Sears Roebuck, John Deere, Neiman Marcus are older, more established brands that earned a good, solid reputation,” he said. “Today, we are just more transparent about brands and how we talk about customer loyalty.”

Although Brocoff believes that brand loyalty can steer buyers towards a product that is sub-par, Speight believes it’s a good thing for consumers.

“It’s hard to earn a customer and when they are in love with a brand you have them for a long time unless you do something to the relationship that’s negative. And that means repeat business whether it’s a car or a cola,” he said.

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