Forget reliability, performance or high-tech features: when it comes to cars, consumers are more likely to fall for looks than anything else.
Researchers from San Francisco State University, led by associate professor of marketing Minu Kumar, set out to understand what it is about a particular car or marque that creates loyalty or ignites a spark of passion among consumers. They examined data from over 700 consumers relating to their opinions of 30 vehicles based on elements such as styling, perceived workmanship, safety and cost and discovered that looks have the biggest influence.
Aesthetes are obviously the major draw of supercars because, take the exterior design elements away and often the car, be it a Ferrari, Porsche or Aston Martin, is near identical under the skin in terms of power and on-road performance.
However, what the researcher weren't expecting was to discover the same rules apply even at the utilitarian end of the market -- the 30 vehicles selected for the study were chosen because of their small size and perceived practicality.
"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," said Kumar. "You might think that segment [of consumers] wants more functionality, more bang for their buck. That may not necessarily be true. The customer might forget the functional attributes of the product over time, but they will love the brand if it has beautiful products."
But perhaps the biggest surprise the researchers found was that a car's altruism -- i.e., its green, environmentally friendly attributes -- does not have a significant affect on a consumer's brand affection. In fact it has less of a pull among consumers than a vehicle's economic value. "In the national sample, people don't seem to give a lot of importance to sustainability," said Kumar.
The study, "Enhancing Consumers' Affection for a Brand Using Product Design", co-authored by Janell D. Townsend and Douglas W. Vorhies, will be published in the Journal of Product Innovation Management in January.