Commentary

Learning From Luxury Automakers

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, October 10, 2013

Today’s consumers expect brands to share stories, legacy and fantasy – not just product information and promotions. Social media provides a way for brands to do this: connect to their customers’ own lives and desires through the use of this personalized medium.

Luxury automakers have this down. The list of the 10 automakers with the most Facebook fans is dominated by luxury brands —BMW, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Lamborghini. 

It’s fair to assume that most Millennials are not running out to buy a luxury car. In fact, according to Cadillac Global Marketing Director Jim Vurpillat, the average age of a luxury car buyer is 53. It is apparent though that Millennials are dreaming about owning one of these status symbols – thanks to the imagery and the storytelling present in the social media campaigns of these luxury brands.

What does this say about luxury automakers’ social strategy? 

Basically, they’re capitalizing on their offline brand cachet, and people on social media are responding. By playing on the public’s esthetic sense, these brands are posting beautiful photos of cars in dramatic settings – and they’re driving the highest fan engagement. Many of these automakers — like Ferrari, Audi, Porsche and Lamborghini — are also involved in motorsports, and they share photos and video of their racing models in events around the world. They use exotic settings to frame videos and explanations of their cars’ performance. When we look at the comments, we see a lot of fans posting about how great they think the cars look, how well-made they believe the cars are, and how they dream of owning one someday. The tactics that glorify these automobiles can be used by any brand, luxury or not, to appeal to an audience that obsesses about its products/industry. Even a practical item like a vacuum cleaner or house paint can play into the consumer’s desire to be part of a lifestyle to which they aspire.

Luxury automakers capitalize on their legacies by posting photos of classic models or historical tidbits about their brands. (For example, Mercedes-Benz posts regular “throwback” photos, Porsche posts photos from historical races, and Harley-Davidson ties its brands to American cultural moments throughout the 20th century.) By illustrating its position in history and culture at large, a brand gains gravitas and shows its consumers they’re part of something bigger.

Interestingly, Nissan, not considered a luxury brand, makes the list of the top 10 automakers with the most Facebook fans. Nissan behaves very much like a luxury brand on Facebook; it’s involved in motorsports and posts images of its race cars. It also shares user-submitted images of fans’ customized Nissans. Many of the automakers with the most Facebook fans post links to articles that mention their brands, and Nissan posts links to articles that praise its cars for their affordability and practicality as well as their performance and appearance. Similarly, Audi, which does position itself as a luxury brand, posts images of proud Audi owners and their cars, garnering comments from fans testifying to the value of their own Audis. These examples show how a brand can play into both consumers’ fantasies and their everyday life experiences.

Some of these automakers take a multi-platform approach. They use Facebook to plug their branded apps or their brand merchandise. These are tools any brand can leverage to stay present in its target consumers’ minds. Even if the consumer is not ready to buy the big-ticket item now, he or she can purchase or engage with a related, less expensive item.

You don’t have to be attached to a luxury brand to learn from the habits of the most-followed automakers on Facebook. These brands share striking, entertaining content and tie their products to the broader culture at least as much as they tie it to consumers’ own lives. They create a sense of gravitas around the brand, whether or not the audience is going to buy immediately. Someday, though, the hope is that this kind of brand loyalty will turn into revenue.

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