After a seven-year run, U.S. automotive sales are showing signs of slipping. That’s going to make brand loyalty even more important in the battle over market share.  

Put simply, it’s more crucial than ever that automakers and dealers retain their existing customers. Forty-one percent of auto brand loyalists felt completely decided when beginning their research for a new car, meaning if you’ve built that connection, you’ve already won them over for the next sale.1 Search and online video can play key roles in building and maintaining loyalty.

We surveyed vehicle shoppers across the purchase journey and discovered three things that automakers and dealers can use to strengthen their loyalty strategy.

Reach the customer before they reach your lot

Auto shoppers say that the sales experience at the dealership is the No. 1 influencer of brand loyalty,2 but with dealer visits declining from an average of five in 2005 to an average of two today,3 brands have fewer opportunities to influence customers in person.4 The good news is that customers are more curious than ever, and they’re fulfilling that curiosity by conducting extensive research online before they ever set foot in a dealership. Ninety-five percent of vehicle buyers use digital as a source of information. In fact, twice as many start their research online versus at a dealer.5 This presents a huge opportunity for brands and dealers to influence customers before they get to the store.

That means making a car buyer’s research process easier and creating an experience that is more relevant. Let’s say you want to reach shoppers who have been searching for Ford Ecosport dealers on Google and are close to making a purchase decision. You can now reach those same shoppers on YouTube with your Ford Ecosport video content. What kind of content? Consider virtual test drives, 360-degree views of the interior, or exterior walk-arounds. Over half (56%) of auto shoppers said they could be convinced to buy a car from a 360-degree video without having to test drive the vehicle.6

In other words, the first step to making the sales experience a positive one for consumers is making sure the pre-sales experience is one to remember.

Don’t forget about service after the sale

After the sales experience, a customer’s maintenance and service experience was ranked No. 2 in influencing automotive brand loyalty.7 Customers who service their vehicle at the dealership they purchased from were more likely to remain brand loyal than those who went elsewhere. But despite the fact that service is a key driver of loyalty, 1 in 3 owners said they serviced their vehicle elsewhere.8

After a dealer makes the sale, service should become the number one priority. We know that nearly 25% of all automotive searches are related to parts, service, and maintenance.9 Dealers who want to re-engage their customers who are searching for parts, service or maintenance, can do so using Customer Match on Google Search. Dealers can personalize their message during the exact moment an existing customer may be searching for other service providers.

Evolve your messaging to match customers’ needs

It’s important to remember that even if a customer ends up becoming a repeat purchaser, more often than not, they’ll consider multiple brands before making their next decision. Of those customers who stay loyal, over 90% still consider at least one other automotive brand in their subsequent shopping journey.10 Price was the No. 1 factor for switching brands. But coming in at No. 2 were life events—like needing more cargo space for a new addition to the family.11

As a carmaker or dealer, it’s critical to evolve your messaging with your customers’ changing needs. One way to do this is to engage with viewers who may be experiencing important life events, such as a college graduation, recent marriage, or a new baby. You can reach these viewers via online video and tailor your messaging depending on their evolving needs.

Get started by asking yourself these three questions:

  • What audience targeting strategies am I using online to influence customers before they set foot in the dealership? 
  • How am I re-engaging customers online who are searching for vehicle service options?
  • Am I evolving the messaging I use online with my loyal customers based on big events in their lives?

Customer loyalty, while always important, becomes even more critical in increasingly competitive environments as sales begin to plateau. Automakers, dealers, and their agency partners should use digital to cultivate brand loyalty beyond the showroom floor.