Not long ago, before we became consumed by social networks, it was a Dad or a relative who was the biggest influence on our automotive decisions. It was a time when automotive brands stood proudly on their heritage and functional benefits, one-upping their competitors at every turn. Whether shopping for an automobile or aftermarket product, it was generally accepted that a consumer would connect to a product’s ‘edge,’ leading to purchase and repeat-purchase decisions. Functional is still important, but times have certainly changed. In today’s digital world, influence comes from thousands of potential resources, pushing automotive brands to connect more emotionally with consumers. 

Having recently returned from SEMA and AAPEX, it was exciting to see both shows bustling with attendance. At these shows, it’s always interesting to see how brands find creative ways to bring their brands to life and connect with customers and consumers. The competition is always high, but brands that promote engagement on emotional levels – for example, real-world testing of products, involved partnerships or unique promotional activities such as a SEMA-sponsored in-booth massage or recharge station – are those that prove most successful in connecting with influencers.

In this new era of consumer engagement, automotive brands must make a strategic commitment to influencing consumers through multiple channels.  Several considerations should be made in doing so:

  • Create a Brand Experience. Wherever a brand engages consumers, it needs to do so with consistency, plus have a pulse and feeling. It should connect to messaging and an ‘experience’ that will resonate with a target audience, whatever the channel. For example, with experiential events, think about the people delivering the brand message – what story are they telling? Is it consistent with social and online communication? As a huge Subaru fan, it is fascinating to see how the brand moved beyond the ‘boxer engine’ messaging and brought feeling and emotion to their brand with their ‘love’ for life and the outdoors.
  • Share the Experience with New Audiences. Building new audiences has to start with what the brand stands for beyond the obvious. As the strategy is developed for impacting a new audience, it is imperative that a brand connects to lifestyle preferences for each new target audience to drive consideration -- without alienating its loyal core audience. Chrysler has done this recently by introducing a fashion-inspired John Varvatos Luxury edition of the Chrysler 300. With this updated, refined style and association with a locally-inspired designer, Chrysler was able to speak directly to a tuned-in female audience.
  • Lead with Integrated Ideas. As you consider building brand advocates, both core and new, do so with impactful ideas that can integrate across multiple communication channels. Some of the more impactful ideas are those that live online, become amplified through social engagement and can be shared through an ‘experience’ accelerated through both earned and paid media. Having experienced first-hand the success of these types of ideas, they demand strong brand leadership and true partnership from all agencies striving to work towards a common end goal. It will be interesting to see how Timberland Tires, introduced at SEMA, integrates across its retail and marketing channels to resonate with consumers.

For me Dad certainly knew best. We might be better served hiring our fathers to consult on brand engagement since he was at the forefront of social influence. 


Joe Gargiulo is Senior Vice President of Automotive Practice at Coyne PR