A new study has revealed that consumers' loyalty and passion for an automobile brand are driven more by appearance.
The study from San Francisco State University found that aesthetics that resonate on an emotional level are more responsible for brand loyalty than such factors as functionality and price.
Co-author Minu Kumar said that in product design, if you focus more on the aesthetics of the product, the connections that you create with the consumer at the brand level will result in more loyalty and a more sustainable relationship
The research examined data from more than 700 consumers about their opinions of 30 small vehicles, as related to such factors as styling, workmanship, safety and cost. While consumers of these types of vehicles are typically believed to have utilitarian priorities, the results showed that social and emotional values, such as the perception of sophistication of design and pride of ownership, had a more significant impact on brand affection than functional values, such as the vehicle's price or gas mileage.
These results, Kumar said, support the idea that consumers' passion for brands with distinctive, aesthetically pleasing designs, including Apple, the Volkswagen Beetle and Dyson vacuums, leads to loyalty.
Kumar explained that if you invest more in the functionality, like providing extra buttons, another cup holder, the result is a more transactional relationship and this way of thinking might be counterintuitive to some designers, especially those who design products at a lower price point.
Kumar said that people thinking that segment of consumers wants more functionality, more bang for their buck, may not necessarily be true as the customer might forget the functional attributes of the product over time, but they will love the brand if it has beautiful products.
One surprising finding of the study, Kumar said, was that altruistic value, where, whether the car was perceived as being environmentally friendly was not a significant predictor of brand affection, ranking lower than economic value. In the national sample, people don't seem to give a lot of importance to sustainability.
He noted, however, that there were regional differences in this phenomenon, with sustainability found to be more important to consumers on the West Coast.
The study is published online in the Journal of Product Innovation Management.