Driving auto loyalty

Robert Passikoff

To build loyalty, an auto brand must create meaning that excites car owners. It's a complex balance of rational and emotional factors

It has been said that no other man-made device since the shields and lances of ancient knights can fulfil an ego like an automobile. Marshall McLuhan, in his seminal 1964 Understanding Media, noted that cars had become something like an article of dress. He suggested that, without a car, people felt “uncertain, unclad, and incomplete”, and were left looking for meaning. And for years, automobile brands capitalised upon that truth in building sales and developing automotive brand loyalty.

That truth – that automobile brand meaning matters – is still driving loyalty today. For years, the marketplace has revealed that creating loyal customers is more an emotional progression than a rational process. We estimate that ratio at 70:30, with the 30% end of things pretty much being 'table-stakes' in virtually every category you'd care to name, including automobiles. In the face of recent economic downturns and consumer expectation upturns, virtually all auto manufacturers have improved fuel efficiency, basic engine quality and reliability, overall drivability, and safety aspects of their cars. Despite McLuhan's observation, it's still, after all, transportation we're talking about.