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The Evolution of Automotive Brand Loyalty

Couple In Love Ride In Cabriolet Car

Most OEMs today consider loyalty a priority in their playbooks. This focus makes sense on a lot of levels, especially given the changing shopping preferences of consumers and the wide array of choices available. These choices extend well beyond the brand, model, type of ownership, and the question of EV vs. ICE. Today, we are wrestling with larger questions around connectivity, rideshare, subscriptions, and frictionless buying.

So, when does loyalty first arise in a shopping experience?

The History Behind Loyalty Programs

Loyalty was once handled by offering loyalty programs with points and rewards systems. While this practice started back in the 1700s and is still in play today, there is now a much greater emphasis on going beyond purchases. Loyalty with a particular brand, especially in automotive, is quite different than it is for department stores, restaurants, and other retail companies. It really starts before the purchase point, affecting the very beginning of the shopping process.

To further complicate things, the automotive shopping process starts with the digital experience and extends through a multitude of channels that exemplify micro-moments within the consumer shopping journey.

Digital-First Direct to Consumer is the First Step

Consumers want the same frictionless buying experience that they have become accustomed to when shopping online across verticals. OEMs have started to introduce elements of direct to consumer with build-and-price, virtual inventory showrooms, and ecommerce capabilities such as the ability to place a deposit and make reservations.

The way most OEMs work is in partnership with their dealerships, and this digital-first approach does not discount that arrangement. Placing the order still happens in partnership with a dealership, and that dealership also supplies product specialists, delivery, and service.

Further, OEMs have developed mobile apps that help consumers start their vehicles, track maintenance, and get alerts about software upgrades. These mobile apps help create an excellent customer experience, but the added benefit is that they help OEMs keep a pulse on consumer loyalty. For every touchpoint, the overall goal should be to retain the consumer throughout the duration of vehicle ownership and in the long term.

Turning Loyal Customers into Brand Influencers

Loyalty in the past few years has taken a decisive turn toward influence. Not only does a consumer get credits toward future service and vehicles, but they also gain influence over the brand. As an OEM, giving consumers the power of influence is a crucial step toward creating brand ambassadors. OEMs have allowed consumers to leave reviews and even provide input for how future vehicles are designed, such as with highly requested features and accessories.

By allowing consumers to directly influence OEMs’ design and production, consumer relationships with the brand are strengthened. As consumers and OEMs build deeper relationships, the automotive industry is moving further away from the past in which OEMs outsourced consumer relationships to their dealerships.

Brand Loyalty Is Really Customer Loyalty

The best experiences provided by OEMs are the ones addressing consumer preferences. If OEMs do not address consumer preferences, they can expect to have a decline in market share. They will retain customers, increase loyalty, and create a stickier consumer experience by embracing consumer preferences.

Perficient has a unique point of view on loyalty as it pertains to automotive. Our experts have weaved together loyalty solutions that help OEMs retain and grow their customer base, but also have consumers provide input in defining what their needs and expectations are from an OEM. This extends into the dealership experience and the evolution of that retail experience.

Discuss automotive customer loyalty with our team of industry experts.

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Keith Tomatore

A long-time senior executive in the auto industry who has held the position of SVP, Retail Marketing at Global Team Blue (GTB, a WPP Company) on the Ford Retail Business. In this role, Keith worked with the Ford Dealer Associations across the country to help them with their Precision Marketing and digital efforts. Also, he served as CEO of iFrog Marketing Solutions, which focused on Automotive advertising solutions for Tier 2 and Tier 3.

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