New York, NY 07.10.2020

How auto brands can build loyalty with crisis-addled intenders

In the midst of the virus crisis, car purchases represent an enormous – and sometimes deferable – expense for cash-strapped consumers. In recent AutoMobility™ research, GfK found that roughly four in ten intenders plan to delay their new car purchases or leases – largely unchanged since March, with some variations by category.

Yet cars also offer familiar, highly personal mobility at a time when most people feel uncomfortable with public transportation. In a just-released GfK Consumer Pulse study, 57% of those who plan to travel during this year’s fall and winter holidays said the car would be their mode of transport – compared to just 35% for planes and 6% for trains. 

> Get a comprehensive look at the 'new normal' in auto shopping it GfK's recent eBook

Car brands in chaotic times

How can automakers maintain their strong brand loyalty and trust among intenders at a time when finances and so many other areas of life are in extreme flux? Many manufacturers have stepped up with a variety of offers to help intenders get over the “hump” of a new-car commitment. GfK AutoMobility™ research in August found that 20% of Luxury intenders and 11% of Non-Luxury said that a special financing or payment offer had convinced them not to delay their car purchase. The most effective of these recent incentives has been 0% interest for the length of the vehicle contract, cited by 47% of those who chose to go ahead with a purchase. 

And auto brands have also built loyalty by providing support in the form of advertising and messaging that speaks to consumers’ key concerns and issues. Near the beginning of the summer, GfK noticed five major categories of messaging in COVID-related brand ads on social platforms: 
•    Empathy & understanding
•    Social responsibility
•    Brand promise
•    Customer experience
•    Product promotion

In most cases, auto brands were emphasizing the good they are doing or the deals they were offering to cash-strapped consumers. Gradually, companies transitioned to more creative extensions of COVID themes – such as Honda’s “virtual meetups” using the #CarsInComments hashtag, or Chevrolet’s virtual backgrounds featuring their latest models in scenic settings. 

In contrast, auto brands today are gradually returning to business as usual; but we still see manufacturers returning to themes that have been resonating and creating loyalty with consumers for the past six months. Hyundai’s “Un-Adventurers” video series – which follows journeys with people who have never left their home states – appeals to the lockdown mindset of people sheltering from COVID-19. Lexus offered another take on the adventure theme, asking, “When it’s time to venture out, where will you go?” – urging owners to outfit their vehicles for different trips and hobbies.

In today’s turbulent market, auto brands need to make the right moves to win loyalty -- disarming skeptical consumers and maintaining trust that has been won over years and decades. More than anything, this requires vigilant monitoring of intenders’ changing concerns and needs – research and observation that is frequent and thoroughly vetted. With this guidance, auto brands can step beyond unpredictable crises and speak to intenders at a highly personal level – deepening loyalty in difficult times.

Article by Julie Kenar -- SVP on GfK's AutoMobility team

> Get a comprehensive look at the 'new normal' in auto shopping it Julie's recent eBook