Luxury automakers have been exceptionally busy over the past year: new designs, new vehicles, new agencies, new advertising, new marketing executives. In spite of the activity, posturing and jabbing in the ring, Lexus and BMW -- Floyd Mayweather-like -- seem to have taken the purchase-consideration lead in the late rounds so far this year, at least among the 1,200 or so consumers polled by marketing firm YouGov BrandIndex in an online survey.
The firm says Mercedes-Benz, which has consistently ranked among the top three luxury car brands in overall brand health this year, hasn't gotten commensurate purchase consideration and is behind among all luxury brands.
By contrast, Lexus started the year behind Infiniti, Audi and Mercedes Benz, with only 6% of U.S. car buyers saying they would consider the brand in February. That metric is up to 16% now for the Toyota Motor luxury brand.
BMW’s purchase consideration surge with potential buyers began two weeks before Lexus, rising from a 9% in early February to a virtual tie with Lexus at 16% now, per YouGov BrandIndex, which reported that the lift happened around the time of the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Perhaps not coincidentally, BMW had a big presence on the U.S. Bobsled sled team, having helped design the sleds and getting branding on the sleds and racewear and gear.
Sales have been strong for both brands. In April Lexus saw a 23% gain and BMW was up 8.5%, year-over-year. Year-to-date through April, Lexus was up 20.8% for its cars and 14.3% for its trucks; and BMW was up 10.7%.
"Lexus and BMW really separate from the pack," says YouGov BrandIndex CEO Ted Marzilli. "That's about three full months in the lead for BMW and about five to six weeks for Lexus."
The firm's study suggests that Infiniti, which has totally revamped its marketing and product, has the opposite challenge as Mercedes: while Infiniti is beginning to see a resurgence of purchase consideration, which has taken them from the bottom of the YouGov ranking to around the middle, their brand health has been near or at the bottom of the luxury car group for the year so far.
Marzilli tells Marketing Daily that BMW, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz all scored well in advertising awareness, and that this awareness metric also indexes strongly (no surprise) for people who are in the market to buy a car.
But advertising alone doesn't account for BMW and Lexus’ pole position. Perceived value, he says, plays a major role. He says that metric boils down to "A preconceived notion that it's either too expensive or reasonable for what you get. Or they could be responding to a TV ad they saw this weekend, or new models. That may be what resonates."
In the study, whose data is garnered from a poll of consumers who are in market to purchase a car over the next 12 months, Acura, Audi, BMW, Infiniti, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz were measured on "Index," the research firm’s score of brand health based on the firm's component scores of quality, value, impression, satisfaction, reputation, and willingness to recommend; and on purchase consideration.