As a marketer and visual strategist, I am always on the hunt for new ways to improve and advance our internal and external marketing strategies, and how these strategies can be applied to the way we approach our clients’ digital presence on social media, on their website, and through their pay-per-click campaigns.

I recently came across a case study conducted by New York-based marketing agency, MBLM, that had some very compelling information, pinpointing the brand intimacy that consumers have with brands in the United States, and to my delight – the automotive industry made the top 10 cut – twice.

What is brand intimacy?

Before we take a deep dive into this case study, let’s first discuss what exactly brand intimacy is. MBLM sees brand intimacy as an emotional science based off of behavioral and neuroscience. This emotional science can be applied to the way a consumer feels connected to a brand and their products, and how that connection “facilitates growth,” “ensures consistency of users,” and “creates advantage” to the brand and the consumer. Think about a customer that has made repeated purchases at your dealership and has referred several friends and family members to your business. This customer not only most likely has brand intimacy with your OEM but also with you as a dealer.

How was the data compiled?

MBLM sent out a survey to 6,200 American consumers, that were between the ages of 18 and 64, with a household income of no less than $35,000 per year. Those that were surveyed were asked questions about brands that they use daily. This survey was not based on opinion but purely based on the brand that each consumer actively uses. From that data compiled Chevrolet and Ford made the top 10 cut, being named one of the “most intimate” brands for American consumers.

Why does brand intimacy matter?

You may be thinking, “Good for the OEM, they are doing their job.”, but there is so much more that can be learned from this data. MBLM discovered that brands with the top levels of intimacy were able to sustain or even increase their prices, and consumers still made a purchase with them. They were fully invested in the brand. MBLM calls this “price resilience.” Emotion is what is driving the consumer’s decision making regarding a purchase with these brands. They feel connected to the products so much so that they “cannot live without” the brand. This was an actual prompt that was presented to those surveyed. Can you live without this brand? Yes or no? Imagine if your dealership applied this methodology to your daily interactions with your customers on and offline. Can your customers “live without you”? By questioning this, you are taking the customer experience to another level. If your dealership already falls under the Chevrolet or Ford umbrella, you already have a home-field advantage, but how are you honing that advantage?

How can this be applied to your dealership?

To give a consumer the emotional connection that instills trust and loyalty leading to final purchase and continued purchases, you have to take a holistic view at how your dealership is engaging with your customers online and in the showroom to get a full diagnostic on your dealership’s brand intimacy.

We all know that the car shopper’s first experience with the dealership is most likely online. This shopper is in the research phase. Now how do you take that researcher and transform them into a customer?

Build trust with the researcher online.

From your dealership’s social media accounts, Google My Business page, reviews, and website, all of these digital spaces should be telling your customer what makes you and your staff unique as a dealership, how you are going to help them find the car that they love, and incentivizing them to keep coming back. Remember, brand intimacy is built on emotions, not finances, so what can you do to show this new customer that you are invested in them?

Show them that you are invested in the community that you do business in.

This component of digital marketing is huge when building trust with a customer. Posting and retweeting OEM generated content on your dealership’s social media accounts isn’t going to cut it when building brand intimacy. In addition to running ads Facebook for your dealership’s latest sale, promote a non-profit that you are working with, or a community event that you feel passionate about. By showing your customers your values as a business, you are helping the researcher make his or her first step into transformation as a customer. MBLM calls this stage in the brand intimacy process “sharing.” You are interacting with your customers, responding to their comments on social media, and sharing your knowledge about the vehicle that they are interested in. By being available, amenable, and active with your customer online, you can quickly transfer them over to the next stage of the brand intimacy experience – “bonding.”

Bonding with your customer solidifies trust in your business.

Once you have shared your knowledge with the researcher, and they are on their way to schedule a test drive, you have just passed over the border of “sharing” to “bonding.” This is where your sales team has the moment to shine to build a relationship with a customer. Talk to them about their needs and wants for their next purchase, maybe even ask them about their struggles. Again, this is all about emotions, not finances, so to get to the heart of what your customer needs, you need to know them.

It’s also important to note here that bonding will be different for your male customers and your female customers. There isn’t a “one size fits all” and the ability for the sales team to pivot to the customer’s needs and hearing those needs is how your dealership can begin to achieve the ultimate success of “fusing.”

Two become one.

You have actively engaged with your customers online, you have given them helpful and accurate information to help solidify their selection, you were attentive and friendly when they arrived in the showroom and educated them on your dealership’s process, and now they have made a purchase. Excellent – on to the next! Wrong. What does your dealership offer that your competitors don’t? Why should your customers keep coming back to your service department for their maintenance needs? Instead of thinking solely about the next sale, think about each sale as an opportunity for the customer to fuse with your business. The process of brand intimacy doesn’t stop with a purchase is made; it occurs from constant and continuous connection with your customers.

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