By on February 3, 2012

Welcome to Marketing 101. Today: Brand loyalty.

Polk finally gives an answer to a question that had given mankind sleepless nights, for als long as since the invention of the wheel: Why do customers stay loyal to their car brand? Really: Why in God’s name? Truth be told, Polk only asked why owners of luxury vehicles return to their dealer to buy again. Instead of, say, emigrating to North Korea. Or joining the witness protection program. The study produced shocking revelations.

The majority of the respondents sticks with the brand because they like it. A whopping 44 percent said they buy again due to undying brand affinity.

Other criteria take a back seat, says the study.

Quality/reliability? A minor matter, cited only by 33 percent.

Driving performance? Not really important. Only 24 percent come back because the old car performed.

Price? Finance? Value? Who needs it?  Only 16 percent do.

Styling and design? As unimportant as money. Only 16 percent are swayed by beauty.

Apparently, this was a multiple choice study. Now before carmakers around the world punch the air and yell “I’ve said it all along! It’s the brand, stupid!” let’s investigate why people abandon their beloved brand when they abandon their beloved brand.

#1 reason: I got a better deal.

#2 reason: The other car looks better

#3 reason: I like the other brand better

#4 reason: Time for a change

#5 reason: Better performance, better design

Here is the final answer to the age-old question: Nothing matters as much as the brand, unless when something else matters. You want to write that down.

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44 Comments on “The Truth About Brand Loyalty: My Love Is Undying Until It Dies...”

  • avatar

    Because they’re weak-minded hamsters who define themselves by their possessions and whatever brand attributes marketers have sprinkled their products with?

    (Disclaimer: I own 2 Hondas, and have been kicked out of bed for making VTEC noises.)

  • avatar

    So price and value is only 16 percent of why to stay, but the #1 reason on why to leave… awesome.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    I would have guessed that the dealer played a big role in people staying with the same brand or moving on.

    • 0 avatar

      This happens a lot when people want to buy X but the Salesrep and/or dealer is a jerk and they go across the street and purchase a Y.

      I have a friend who’s a die hard Audi fan and the dealership in my town was such a jerk he would up getting an Lexus IS.

      • 0 avatar

        My ’82 Dodge Rampage and ’87 Dodge Shadow ES were both typical 1980s POS. However, in 1991 when it came time to blow up the Shadow, I did shop the (all new) Grand Caravan and I was sorely tempted; however, I also understood that a large number of the issues with my Shadow were because the only Chrysler dealer in town could not get it fixed correctly the first or second time. Facing a 40 minute drive for any repairs was the major disincentive.
        (And, NO, I will NEVER take any new vehicle I buy anywhere other than an authorized dealer for ALL service during the warranty period.) Let’s just say, I have been caught in the middle of irate customers who never returned to our dealer (or any dealer) in 3 years who are being denied a warranty claim. It is not worth saving $5 on an oil change to get into that hassle.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    I was raised with blind GM loyalty (my father has yet to own a non-GM product aside from his 1967 Mustang that his mother-in-law practically gave him.) My first two cars were GM products and I’ve owned nothing but Ford cars and trucks since. I consider myself a free agent, I’ll survey my needs and the cars that meet my needs and then choose one. Neither my Ford or my GM vehicles were bad for me but I don’t stay just to stay. The best vehicle for anyone’s needs may or may not be in a brand they are familiar with.

  • avatar

    If your an average joe. You buy a car and it doesn’t explode on you. You have brand loyalty now.

  • avatar

    I had a string of Acura Integras (four) starting in 1986 and extending through 1997. Loved the first one, liked the 2nd one tolerated the 3rd and dumped the 4th (the 97) after 10k miles.

    The things that made the 1st great kept gradually getting dropped from the later models, including quality of materials in the 97. Acura and Lexus shared the problem of an appreciating Yen making their products more costly to make. Lexus chose to keep quality up and raise prices; Acura chose to keep prices down and decontent. History shows us the right answer.

    Now, I’m on my 4th 3 series… and pretty much in the same place I was with Acura. The new ones are the same xdance partners the earlier models were.

    I don’t know where I’m going next (yet) I just know I’m leaving.

  • avatar

    I could really care less about the brand. I’m interested in features, styling, interior design, and performance. The car I had previous to my current Audi was a Lexus, which literally fell to pieces, so I put little stock in what CR has to say. My Audi which has plenty of FULL BLACK DOTS in the pages of CR has been perfectly fine.

    When I bought it I wanted AWD (check) a powerful engine (check) luxurious interior (check) and plenty of space and practicality (check). At the time, there was no AWD 5 series, the E-class was a very staid looking bore, and the rest of the class either didn’t offer AWD, or was just a terrible car (Acura RL).

    When it comes time to move on, admittedly the latest C7 generation A6 is at the top of the list, but not in any way because I feel I just have to have another Audi. I just think it’s better looking than the F10 5 series, and by many accounts better to drive. I’m also wary of the criticized numb BMW steering and lazy BMW throttle response of late.

    I don’t love the current E-class, but I’ll take one out for a spin anyway, as it’s now much more competitive with their direct injected V6. I would consider the new GS now as well, since it seems to not be a rolling sofa anymore.

    The car that doesn’t appeal to me is the M. I just can’t get past the design. It looks like a Mega Maxima. As for the interior, Lexus smartly copied BMW this time. German looking interiors sell in this class. Japanese ones don’t, and I don’t see the M breaking out of it’s second tier status with those looks.

  • avatar

    I am loyal to Audi. Dealership experience is great in my case and I like how they drive. I hate the Ford’s I have owned because they were, in my case, unreliable and the dealerships in my area are horrible. Not that nothing has ever gone wrong with my Audis but if I have a choice between a car that has issues every now and then that I don’t enjoy driving or one that has issues every now and then that I DO enjoy driving I will pick the latter of course. I know guys with BMWs and I have driven some of them. They drive great too, but are no more reliable than Audi and changing to bimmers would not be worth loosing the dealership experience I get with Audi (in my city anyways). So I guess the dealership experience counts for a lot in my case. The dealership knows that and it shows. If I were looking for a toy that was not going to be a daily driver (snows here) I would love to test out the new Mustang. They look awesome, sound awesome and have good performance numbers. But the Ford dealership experience I have had has resulted in me never allowing myself to buy a Ford again.

    Addition: Also, I walk by a Ford dealership every day and they have a really nice Mustang on the showroom floor. With ropes around it and do not touch signs. What the heck? You want to sell it or not? I can go into my Audi dealership and touch an R8. I can sit in the $130k A8L and touch the buttons and play with the seat. But Ford ropes off their Mustang. Its that attitude I have heard of in other domestic dealerships where you cannot touch or drive or otherwise experience their flagship products. Don’t know why they do that, beggars can’t be choosers IMO.

  • avatar

    So would “history of the brand” fall into that 44% “brand affinity” caterogry?

  • avatar

    I have covered every country that exports cars to the US and owned all of the Big 3. Jeep will always have a special place in my heart, no one builds a car as well as the Germans, American cars are perfectly good enough for most people, Japanese cars really will last forever, and Hyundai is the only brand I’ve bought twice.

  • avatar

    I was a Ford Loyalist until I got burned by head gaskets, transmissions, and general poor quality and design of their products. I guess i saw the forest in the trees.
    I’ve moved on to Hyundai and now Acura. No real problems with the Hyundai and so far (1 year) the Acura is perfect.
    Will I go to a Ford dealership again? Probably not. Hyundai, sure. Acura, maybe.

  • avatar

    So that is what CJ’s arm looks like!

  • avatar

    But what is a brand to most people? When it comes to cars, brand is wrapped up in the qualities of the products sold by that brand… so when somebody says they buy a Honda because they like the brand – might that be because the brand is generally reliable? So by extension they are brand loyal because they have an expectation of reliability from that brand? Or for BMW, they like that brand because they have an expectation that their cars will drive better than competitors? To do a valid insightful survey on this would probably require better investigators than Polk.

    • 0 avatar

      You nailed it, ventdiver. Reliability/quality, performance, value and design are brand attributes. A person who picks brand really means his or her experience of some combination of those four attributes, among others.

      And Bertel misrepresented the results. For example, he claims the majority picked brand when in fact it was only 44%, which isn’t that far from the next most common response, reliability, at 33%.

      • 0 avatar

        Skipped civics 101?

        simple majority 
        less than half of the total votes cast but more than the minimum required to win, as when there are more than two candidates or choices.
        less than half the number of voters registered.

        absolute majority 
        a number of votes constituting more than half of the number cast.
        a number of voters constituting more than half of the number registered.

        … and what Ventdiver said

      • 0 avatar

        Technically it’s a plurality, anytime somebody uses “simple majority” they really mean plurality and are misusing the meaning of majority because it sounds like a stronger argument. Not to offend the writer because it is still an honest statement but it feels disingenuous on a certain level.

        On topic, brand loyalty is really about not screwing up than doing anything right. If they keep their car lineups solid but not outstanding they’re more likely to outsell the flashy brand that has a major recall or dealer issues. Brand loyalty is a long-term zeitgeist. It was talked about years ago but Oldsmobile was actually building some decent cars at the end of the 90s into the 2000s but their nagging image from 10 years prior kept the cars from selling. The Aurora was a solid car that is still a beauty but if everybody sees those notchback cretins when they think Oldsmobile nobody is going to buy.

  • avatar

    Not that I care about a label on the hood, but I always look for a particular combination of qualities / looks.

    So not being loyal to any particular brand, somehow I keep repeat-buying / returning to certain SAAB models. Will soon be on my #7.

    However, I only cherry-pick specific combinations of spec/years.

    And I do not give about what others may think of my choices.

  • avatar

    We’re extremely marque loyal with our “fun/lifestyle/just the two of us” cars, but have used three widely different manufacturers for our “foul weather/carry other folks or stuff around” cars.

    It would be interesting to isolate the first category from the second.

  • avatar

    Nobody noticed it was a study of luxury buyers? Duh, that’s the last customer using logic to buy their car. Even the wealthy buy their cars by the pound. They don’t buy high end luxury cars. Only those high-income people with high-upkeep lifestyles buy top end luxury cars. These people are underaccumulators of wealth and the last thing to apply is logic. When you’re buying a string of new luxury cars, you’ve drunk so much affluenza Kool Aid that your lips are Ferrari red anyway.

    Run the study on C-segment cars and you’ll see a different result.

    (Don’t run the study on B-segment cars; the poor are even more brand-loyal than the ultra rich.)

    • 0 avatar

      True, high-end car buyers are not the wealthiest people. These buyers usually have high income, but not a lot of investment assets.

      The truly wealthy may own a high-end car or two, but have them as long-term keepers.

  • avatar

    I am not so much brand loyal as few brands offer what I want

    A stick shift is a must as is 4×4 and decent ground clearance (for the drive to work in more than 6 inches of snow and fooling around in the sand/mud/dirt)

    You can probably guess, but right now my Wrangler fits the bill perfectly and if it were to be totaled tomorrow, it would be a tough decision between a new Wrangler and an Xterra

  • avatar

    It no surprise to see a gap between what people say they look for in a car and what the actually look for. Just look at any survey about what people they look for in members of the opposite sex.

    Safety, value and economy are very often the human relationship equivalents of the “great sense of humor” – everyone says they want it but the actions speak louder than the words.

  • avatar

    I’ve owned a Mitsubishi, Ford, Volvo, Miata, Nissan, and now a Fiat, in that order. I bought each because they offered best what I needed at the time, be it a cheap first car or something to have fun in. The brand didn’t matter. That is the young consumer (Apple excluded).

  • avatar

    In general, exceptions always exist, there is at least some truth in “humans are creatures of habit.”

    Apply as appropriate.

  • avatar

    I don’t know about the rest of you but, I drive a car because I enjoy it. I drove GM until it got to the point that doors were so big I couldn’t open them. I drove Ford until the transmission left me stranded. I drove Subaru until they got so damn big. I drove Toyota until the ergonomics started to suck and I couldn’t get the engine/transmission I wanted.(Why is there no manual transmission available in a truck?) Now, I drive Honda until they screw them up also! What is next? Maybe Hyunda…who knows?

  • avatar

    2 reasons curiously being absent from the list to move to another brand:
    1) dealership nearby closed
    2) wife/girlfriend never liked the old car/brand

  • avatar

    No, I haven’t posted this comment already. Check your software. I said:
    “2 reasons curiously being absent from the list to move to another brand:
    1) dealership nearby closed
    2) wife/girlfriend never liked the old car/brand”

  • avatar

    Reliability and getting the right stuff is about all that matters to me. I’m sort of stranded in chevyland right now with an automatic transmission after doing almost a million miles in 4 cylinder, 5 speed manuals in Datsun/Nissan.

    I think I’ll just stay here until this craters or I start riding a horse to get to town.

  • avatar

    My only loyalty was to air-cooled VWs due to their simplicity, but even then I dropped it in favor of… well I have no brand loyalty anymore really.

  • avatar

    Let me see, Ford,Honda,Audi,Buick,Opel,Peugeot,Volvo,Ford,Ford,Ford,Ford,Ford,Ford,Honda,Ford,Audi,Renault,BMW,Ford and now Honda and Ford,
    I won’t exactly call myself brand loyal, although I see some recurring names here :P
    Someone above here already mentioned it. Sometimes it’s the only brand that offers the one thing you need.
    As was the case with my affection for Ford Sierras. A reasonably cheap (that has changed as they are about to move into classic car territory) rwd car, easy to modify/tune, and cheap and easy to maintain. And it’s a proper 5-seater hatchback, that weighs nothing. As far as I have found it’s closest rival in interior space/utility with rwd would be a e34 Touring, which I’ve also tried owning. And besides the fact that I only drove it for 9 weeks total in the 20 weeks I owned it, it also weighed a ton more…not to mention running/maintenace costs…
    The current daily driver CR-V was the only car I could find with a rear seat actually wide enough for two child seats and an adult (5’7″ 12 year old).
    It does help that it’s a 2.0 Vtec (eurospec) and not a 2.4 diesel without a turbo (VW van), and that I live on top of a snowy/ice steep hill 5 months of the year, and that it’s as short as any 80/90’s mid size hatchback :)
    The one thing I can say that comes close to brand loyalty/affection, apart from the fact that Honda and Ford has happened to build two cars I needed, is that I love they way they are built, from an engineering point of view. I love the way Ford has spared no expense in saving every possible expense on every last bit on their cars. It makes them very easy to work on, very easy to modify, and very light :P (and after a few years, very cheap to buy:P)
    Hondas seem to be build very similarly (as do many japanese cars,) but with lesser care to details that doesn’t affect reliability, (body lines are a lot tighter on my 28 year old Sierra than on my 2003 CR-V, plastic window moldings crack in the winter) and more attention on stuff that does (electrics are joined and secured properly, screws are tightened properly, you can more or less by looking at parts tell that they were calculated to fit perfectly with each other and not just thrown there from another department or model by a sloppy European factory worker on his way for lunch)

  • avatar

    LOL! I’m all over the map on this one. I’ve owned cars from all the domestic auto manufacturers at one time or another and also cars from European and Asian car makers when I was stationed in those regions during my military days.

    I’ve had a lot of cars over the years but when it comes to buying NEW cars and trucks, I haven’t had many:
    a 1968 Mercury Monterey
    a 1971 IHC TravelAll
    a 1972 Olds Custom Cruiser
    a 1976 Olds Toronado
    a 1980 Caprice Classic
    a 1988 Silverado ExtCab LB
    a 1996 Towncar
    a 2006 F150 XLT
    a 2008 Toyota Highlander Limited 4X4
    a 2011 Tundra DC SR5 5.7
    and now a 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland Summit 4X4 V6.

    The last three I still own. Not much brand loyalty there.

    My reasons for buying each vehicle at that particular time was the #1 reason listed above, I got the better deal!

  • avatar

    A pic of a Honda guy with man boobs, was that supposed to be some subliminal brand loyalty image?

  • avatar

    I’ve owned a Honda, a Buick, a Ford (mid-’90s Escort GT, so not their typical fail-mobile of the era), and a Volkswagen. Not one of them has made me regret the (admittedly small and used) purchase. They all had good points, but I don’t think I’d ever stick with just a single brand because there are too many neat cars to drive. A Citroën 2CV? A Mercedes-Benz 8/38? A Ford Model C? Why not? A Nissan March SuperTurbo? A Ferrari 456? (Well, a guy can dream, I guess.)

  • avatar

    To the extent I’d stick with my brand, it’s because of the dealership experience and service.

    If I’ve got a good car, that’s not a factor. A replacement car from the same brand five years down the line is rolling the dice; it could be equally good, but who can say?

    If I’ve got a bad car, that is a factor. I don’t believe quality control is likely to improve significantly within my vehicle turnover.

    But ultimately, all of this is a distant second to product. If Kia came out with a serious value-leader (in the sense of offering the characteristics I want at the best price; could be a luxury car a la the Genesis), I’d stomach a lot of dealership guff to get it.

  • avatar

    I’ve had a decent mix of vehicles in my almost 40 years of driving:

    1971 Cutlass (Wrecked in ’73)
    1972 Cutlass (Electrical problems galore for a while, then it was fine.)
    1974 Plymouth Roadrunner
    1977 Dodge “Macho” Power Wagon (Bought after the Chevy dealer down the street tried to play games. I walked.) Probably a mistake, as the PW was a total POS. Dog of dogs.
    1979 Trans Am. I loved that car. Awesome throttle response (After a lot of mods).
    1982 Chevy K5 Blazer. The all time most problem free vehicle I ever had. In 4 years, total problems that weren’t caused by my stupidity was…ZERO.
    1985 Caravan. Mighty Misubishi 2.6 4 banger made life…slow.
    1986 Camaro Iroc-Z.
    1988 Chevy S-10 Blazer. Second most reliable vehicle to that point. A hunk of trim fell off when new, and it had an oil leak. It was retired recently due to rusting out. It had over 400,000 miles on it and the engine was never touched except for a timing chain at 200K.
    1993 Jeep Grand Cherokee. A lot of minor issues, but I liked it enough to keep it seven years.
    1999 Grand Cherokee. Hated it so much, I got rid of it in 18 months.
    2000 GMC Sierra 1500 Ext cab 4×4. Wrecked in ’03, and never right again.
    2003 Dodge Ram 1500 4×4. One of my favorite vehicles, I had to get rid of it after I suffered severe knee injuries in ’07.
    2008 Dodge Charger R/T. A winner, zero problems in 3 years.
    2010 Challenger R/T. So far, as good as the Charger was, faster, and light years better looking. My favorite vehicle of all.

  • avatar

    I buy based on model. I have allegiences to certain brands but if they don’t make a car in the format you want at the price you want well I’ll go somewhere else.

    eg. I would never buy an Audi or Volvo as I don’t believe in luxury FWD cars.

    I think companies mistake how much the dealer experience can make or break a brand. True to form, many people seem to dislike GM and Ford dealers and this is reflected onto the car.

    The two Koreans tend to have better deal experiences so again this flatters the brand.

  • avatar

    I’m not much for blind brand loyalty but sometimes I go for a brand, based on how I like their general designs. I have currently an almost 8 YO cordless phone from Panasonic and my DVD recorder is also a Panasonic, though that was not a conscious decision but at the time, I was impressed with what they were making in a general sense. My TV is a Samsung, based on what they were offering at the time (2008) and having seen a 12 YO tubed TV my Mom bought be reliable (she’s since replaced it with a VIZIO LCD TV).

    But as to cars, I’ve always had a soft spot for Mopars, especially older ones and had been well familiar with the venerable slant 6 as a child as I grew up around mostly Plymouths, but a Dodge or two as well and owned an old Chrysler and my parents had the Chrysler Concord for a few years.

    I also had a soft spot for Honda, but not so much their current lineup as much though the Fit comes close to what I want in a car since I was exposed to them back in 1976 as a 5th grader with the very first Accord that my Dad bought new and they’ve had 2 others since that first one and after my Dad died, Mom bought a gently used ’97 Accord that she replaced with a 2004 Dodge Stratus due to her arthritis and the low seating in the Honda was making getting into and out of it difficult. The Dodge, being a bit higher was MUCH easier for her and she loves it and having driven it, it’s not a bad car at all, but lacks sizzle in its driving dynamics and is a tad too noisy.

    Right now, I just traded in a very tired, nearly 20 YO Ford Ranger truck I bought used in 2006, still running fine, though not without issues at 236K+ miles on it for a 2003 Mazda Protege5 that I ended up buying, not because it was a Mazda, but because it had what I wanted/needed and just felt right to me, which is the critical thing when test driving a vehicle IMO, if it feels right and you feel comfortable with it and it’s easy to operate, then by all means, go for it.

    But in my past, I’ve had a 68 Chrysler Newport, 2 Chevy Novas (a ’74 and a ’78), a ’78 Ford Fairmont, 1983 Honda Civic and the ’88 Accord (all of these used), the Ranger truck and now, the Mazda. I’ve only gotten to choose the Civic, the ’78 Nova and now the Mazda, the rest were given to me or I inherited it (the Accord).

    Not only does the Mazda feel just right, size wise, but I love its driving dynamics, which feels sporty but in a daily driver kind of way and is a very practical hauler when necessary as it’s the 5 door hatchback.

    So my criteria is handling/overall driving feel, size (no bigger than a C segment), style and usefulness (hatchbacks or small wagons), then brand but some brands, I tend to avoid, knowing their reputations for being finicky and unreliable even if maintained tend to turn me off, but some brands (FIAT) I’m willing to take a gamble with because I like what I see of the car and having driven it, would’ve been my NEW car choice. I don’t mind less than perfect reliability (Honda/Toyota), just as long as the car is way more drivable than it is not though and I have alternatives when it IS in the shop.

    So now that I have the Mazda, it’ll be interesting to see how my ownership of it fairs over time but so far, I love it.

  • avatar

    For me, reliability is Job #1. I make long drives in open country, through the Rockies, and often in winter, so I need something I can trust to not break down and strand me in the middle of nowhere. That means no Benz, Audi, BMW, or VW. Besides, the idea of paying $$$ for “engineering” that doesn’t hold up would make me feel like I’d taken cash out into the backyard and burned it. Also, I can participate in these money-pits vicariously, through family members who own these uberjunkers.

    What else is out? GM or Chrysler products… I won’t subsidize the parasitic government/union cleptocracy that lurks behind the curtain. Ford… if I let them sell me another one, it’s shame on me.

    No pseudosportscars… I get a better handling/performance fix from my Ninja.

    And probably no Honda. Miserable, bean-counting, ball-dropping, myopic, insular, navel-gazing bastards. (I own one, but it isn’t new.) The only nifty car they make is the Fit, which unfortunately doesn’t meet my needs.

    Thankfully I don’t need to go car-shopping, but if I was thinking about a new model my first stop might be Subaru, to check out the new Forester.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    I have essentially no brand loyalty. I’ve owned cars from two Swedish brands, a Japanese brand, and a German brand. My next vehicle will be probably be some sort of Jeep.

    • 0 avatar

      I have never been a Jeep fan and I owned several different kinds of used Jeep over the years, such as the Wagoneer and Wrangler.

      But a few months ago I bought a 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland Summit 4X4 V6 for my wife and I am favorably impressed with the whole package.

      No problems in over 5k miles and the fit&finish is outstanding. And the automatic QuadraTrac I with Traction control is sure-footed on and off road, in mud, snow, on gravel and ice alike. You can’t even feel it working although you see everyone around you slipping and sliding around.

      It’s the best Jeep we’ve ever owned and just as good as the 2008 Toyota Highlander Limited 4X4 we replaced.

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