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How car brands can build loyalty with a new generation of drivers

New generations have emerged whose perception and appreciation of cars have changed, writes Tim Gosman, senior consultant, The Brand Union.

Tim Gosman, senior consultant, The Brand Union

Tim Gosman, senior consultant, The Brand Union

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The car that you drive says a huge amount about how you want to be perceived. Whether you’re a Jag man or an Alfa fan, fond of Ford or happy with Honda, the brand that you choose is a very visible way of sharing your personality and status with the wider world.

Because of this, it’s a purchase in which a huge amount of emotion and consideration is invested. Once you’ve decided to which tribe you belong, brand loyalty is fierce.

Or at least, it used to be.

Because the reality is that as the world becomes ever more urban and ever more connected, new generations have emerged whose perception and appreciation of cars have changed. Whether it’s because they represent too great an economic burden, an environmental irresponsibility or simply an unnecessary luxury, cars no longer hold the same status as they once did.

What this means is that the way in which we now interact with and experience automotive brands has changed considerably. They are still valued by people across all cultures and contexts, but the definition of value has changed to something much more practical and rational. A car is now a tool, not a treasure. For automotive brands looking to remain relevant and ever-present in people’s lives, the need to acknowledge and adapt to this shift is crucial.

Becoming a borrower brand

Arguably the biggest change that has taken place among the younger generations is that the idea of owning a car is becoming outdated.

A car is no longer the status symbol that it was for their parents, and so has become something that it is more practical to share, rent, or borrow. If your car keys no longer carry kudos, then why bother with the costly inconvenience of ownership and upkeep? The challenge this poses automotive brands is obvious – what do you do when your brand is suddenly so much more disposable?

If your car keys no longer carry kudos, then why bother with the costly inconvenience of ownership and upkeep?

Partnership is one tactic that could certainly be better exploited. City Car Club, ZipCar and similar start-ups give drivers the choice of an entire fleet of vehicles, as and when they need one. The subsequent challenge is how to create an engaging and memorable brand experience for the 700,00 ZipCar members, when the time you have with them is fleeting, and the touchpoints fewer.

If you can demonstrate value in the few short seconds when they load up their app, or put the key in the ignition, you’ll at least turn apathy into intrigue, and earn the opportunity to build a deeper relationship.

Smarter cars

For the driver who is still keen to own their auto, the opportunities are greater but the brand experience still needs to be very carefully managed.

If your phone is smart, your car should be too, which is why automotive brands continue to invest considerable resources into proving their high-tech credentials, and turn the car seat into a cockpit. However, while loading a car with gadgets is all well and good, the real trick is to seduce consumers with simplicity, and provide a seamless experience that ensures the technology that they use constantly outside the car, is just as easy and safe to use inside it.

For some, the easy answer has been to team up those brands that best understand how to create intuitive, consumer-friendly interfaces. Apple has recently announced that next year twelve brands, including Chevrolet, Jaguar, Nissan and Ferrari, will take iPhone integration to the next level by putting iOS directly into their infotainment systems. While there is an obvious degree of risk for these manufacturers in ceding control to another brand, buddying up with the much-lauded kings of connectivity seems like a smart move in every sense of the word.

Making ownership less onerous

The effort now required in urban areas to keep your car stationary – road tax, parking permits, insurance etc – let alone running, weighs heavy. We’re at a stage where even leasing a car can be an undesirable burden of red tape and admin.

Peugeot is one brand which has cottoned on to this fact with its ‘just add fuel’ campaign – an approach to leasing that provides most of the essential services and support in exchange for one monthly payment, so all the driver has to worry about is filling up. It turns the idea of ownership into something that feels straightforward to manage, making it easy to say ‘yes.’

In some markets the mechanics behind booking a test-drive feel very outdated for our time-poor customer, making even the first step towards ownership feel like an obstacle.

Similarly, in some markets the mechanics behind booking a test-drive feel very outdated for our time-poor customer, making even the first step towards ownership feel like an obstacle. Many brands still insist that interested drivers schlep to their nearest suburban showroom, with the irony being that you often need a car to get there in the first place. Wouldn’t it make more sense to bring your latest model to their front door? Yes, this means the dealer is doing more of the leg-work, but by allowing them to experience you brand in the context of their regular routine, you’ll make it that much harder for them to say ‘no’.

It’s clear there are a number of challenges facing car brands that want to engage with new generations of drivers, and change the way in which they view their vehicle (if they even own one). But there are plenty of opportunities for those savvy enough to understand this new mindset. It’s still possible for these drivers to value a vehicle, but the idea of value is now more linked to function than fashion, convenience than performance and simplicity than status.

Build a brand experience that understands and exploits these new attributes, and your car may still be a tool, but it’ll be an indispensible one.

This article was first published on marketingmagazine.co.uk

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