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Why Automotive Brands Are the Most Intimate

Examining the Special Relationship Between Driver and Vehicle

by Mario Natarelli

The automotive industry produces the most intimate brand relationships compared to eight other industries researched as part of the 2015 Brand Intimacy Report. Four brands in this category made the Top 10 Rankings.

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These results suggest the strong bonds people have with their cars and the ability of this category to connect with consumers. Cars and motorcycles are among the most significant purchases consumers make. The buying process and purchase decision are made only after great consideration and study to align with one’s sensibilities and status/stage in life. As important as these values are to consumers, we’ve found that fulfillment of the brand (how well it exceeds expectations, delivers superior service, quality, and efficacy) remains a top deciding factor. Another nuance to understanding the importance of car brands related to fulfillment may be the safety factor. On the road, we need to be confident that our purchases are performing, reliably and dependably.

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This year’s report contains one of the most comprehensive rankings of brands based on emotion, analyzing the responses of 6,000 consumers and 52,000 brand evaluations across nine industries in the U.S., Mexico and UAE. The chart below contrasts a pair of similar automotive brands: BMW, the top-ranked automotive brand (#2 overall), and Mercedes (#20 overall). Both luxury German automakers are known for their quality and above average performance across the Brand Intimacy archetypes of indulgence, fulfillment, and identity. However, BMW  has achieved a stronger Brand Intimacy Quotient because more of its users have some form of intimacy with the brand (47 percent for BMW, compared to 29 percent for Mercedes), notably across the sharing and bonding stages. We can see clearly how BMW has done a better job in connecting emotionally with its drivers, and that translates to a much stronger more intimate brand.

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Why does a stronger Brand Intimacy Quotient matter? Intimate brands create significant business performance. The Top 10 Most Intimate Brands have outperformed established financial indices for both revenue and profit growth over the last ten years. In addition, these brands command a price premium, enjoying more financial resilience than brands in the same industries that are not intimate.

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This year’s Report and Rankings feature a range of interesting findings:

GMC, yes them, ranks in the Top 10 in the U.S.! Beyond males who like their trucks, it’s clear that women like their SUVs, too, and rank them higher than men do.

Younger users (ages 18-34) favor Toyota and Honda. Older users (ages 35-64) prefer BMW, Harley Davidson and Lexus.

Mercedes ranks higher among men than women, while Toyota ranks higher among women.

Car brands seem to perform best in the middle-income areas and through middle age. In extremes of either age or income, the prevalence of intimate car brands diminishes.

Also notable is that Uber ranks fourteenth in this category, and among those ages 18-34, it ranks in the top five.

Check out our Brand Intimacy Ranking Tool, built from 52,000 brand assessments.

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Recent challenges faced by brands like Volkswagen will likely have profound effects on the bonds they form with their consumers (especially in the U.S.). Brand Intimacy is both hard to achieve and maintain. Like bonds between people, it requires sustained efforts and continual nurturing.

With the dramatic evolution in this category enhanced by technology and with trends like car sharing and autonomous driving affecting every manufacturer, creating more intimate brands may be the winning formula for automotive brands in the long term.


To download the full Brand Intimacy 2015 Report or explore the Ranking Tool, please visit: mblm.com/brandintimacy/.

Read our detailed methodology here.

To learn more about MBLM, click here.

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