What The Auto Industry Taught Me About Brand Loyalty

by cshafer, January 3, 2017

According to Investopedia.com, Brand loyalty is defined by “customer behavior where consumers become committed to a brand and make repeat purchases over time.”

Sounds simple enough doesn’t it? Yes and No. Brand loyalty is something that every human being feels on a daily basis. If you stop and take a few seconds to think about some of the products and services you prefer, why did you choose these particular products/services?

It is most likely not because they are unique and “Brand A” only carries a certain type of product. It is because when you dive deeper into loyalty it boils down to biology and physiology.

If we are loyal to a company, we are saying that we believe that their product will make us the safest, keep us the warmest, and perhaps make our life a little more convenient. When companies take advantage of brand loyalty they create an environment of confidence, a sense of belonging, and a “feeling” towards a specific company.

Take the outdoors enthusiast brand Patagonia for example. Their mission statement describes a sense for a higher purpose and a sustainable business model, rather than simply selling clothes. A great example of how they continue to develop this brand on black Friday 2016 they donated 100% of their sales to organizations that benefit the environment.

This says something about a company. It says that they are connected to the people, environment around them and it fosters brand loyalty through the population that is beginning to hold the majority of purchasing power; the millennials.


Subaru is another great example. When you compare Subaru to similar auto makers you will find a few small but important differences. Subaru drives brand loyalty in a similar way that Patagonia does, through giving back and becoming a brand that stands for something other than selling cars. Subaru constantly runs advertisements based on 4 main pillars: family friendly, sporty, pet friendly, and safety minded. Subaru tends to advertise sales with a promo called “Share the Love Event” which creates incentives based on charitable donations rather than some sort of financial incentive. In 2015, Subaru stated that within the last 20 years of business they have donated over 50 million to charities and stand for giving back to the community.

In contrast to these two brands, let’s take a look at the other side of the fence. As a newly minted physical therapist, I practice in a small suburb roughly 20 minutes outside of Detroit. When most people in the U.S. and Michigan think about Detroit, the auto industry comes to mind. Whether we think of the auto industry in a positive and negative light is beside the point.

The major way in which I derive job satisfaction is through building relationships with my staff and more importantly my patients. Being so close to Detroit, brand loyalty can never be as evident as it is in the demographic of my patients.

A customer/patient/client can develop brand loyalty in a variety of ways, in the case of my patients, their loyalty is deeply rooted in their career. For example, if they work for Ford, GM, or Chrysler, their loyalty is in whatever company keeps the roof over their head and food on the table.

But what happens when companies begin to lose sight of customer loyalty? For example, Ford may have a perfectly reasonable and possibly inspirational reason for existing and producing their product, but where these companies fail is their inability to portray this to their current and future customers.

In 2008, the U.S economy saw exactly that. Domestic auto manufactures drove sales by repeated manipulation of price in the form of repeated cash back offers to drive short term sales. As described by Simon Sinek, Author of “Start with Why”, these short term gains ultimately led to GM losing $729/vehicle and contributed to the collapse of the industry.


What does this have to do with my job, or the products or services I choose to purchase?

Everything. If you have not already, I urge you to pick up a copy of “Start with Why” (no current affiliation). Simon Sinek portrays the ideas of human behavior, and how it is deeply rooted in biology. He points out that if individuals and companies do not start with why they do something and give meaning to it, they will ultimately fail.

This concept is ever prevalent in the field of physical therapy. We have a brand problem and although physical therapists are highly educated and highly skilled, the majority of our perspective clients have no clue what we do. To find out what physical therapy REALLY is and how we can help you, click this link to call to find out more.

-Chad Shafer,DPT, CSCS

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