GM, FORD HOPE SERVICE ACCELERATES LOYALTY

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The marketing battle for automotive brand loyalty is headed for the service bays.

The two largest automakers have stepped up their efforts to convince owners they should bring their cars and trucks back to a dealership for both routine maintenance and more complex repairs. For General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co., one motive is to strengthen dealers' profits.

But an important, underlying reason is that the carmakers are focusing more on winning over a customer's long-term loyalty, something that would translate into future purchases.

"Our surveys say if a customer is satisfied with his or her dealer in maintenance and repairs, then we're more likely to get the next vehicle sale," said Jim Carey, marketing manager for Ford's Customer Service Division.

Mr. Carey said the division is using its advertising and promotion to develop Quality Care as a brand. Ogilvy & Mather, Detroit, created the campaign, themed "Quality Care. Where the quality continues."

GM is currently testing in Chicago an enhanced-service plan dubbed GM Goodwrench Service Plus. Piloted last year in Columbus, Ohio, the program offers courtesy transportation, extended service hours and a lifetime warranty on parts and labor.

The Chicago test began in March and in one month generated 15% to 20% hikes in repair orders and parts sales compared to the same period last year, said Brent Snelson, director of advertising, GM Service Parts Operations.

To support the program, GM is running three 30-second spots developed by D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and will break a fourth commercial in late June targeting women, who make up nearly 60% of the principal drivers of GM vehicles. The spot features a woman restaurant owner who endorses the program from the standpoint of someone appreciating good service.

One problem facing automakers is that 70% of owners go to another service facility or do routine services themselves.

"We're focusing now on light repair and maintenance, so that we can become their regular repair facility," said Jay Klahn, advertising and sales promotion manager, Ford Customer Service Division.

A current :30 reminds viewers Ford had five of the 10 best-selling vehicles last year. As repair-bay scenes are shown, the voice-over says: "And to help keep your car running like new, we designed Quality Care preventive maintenance ... a level of care you won't find anywhere-quick, expert and competitively priced."

Another :30 focuses on the dealership service adviser as the primary customer contact who can help a car owner save time and money. A third spot, airing on both racing and other programming, shows an acrobatic pit crew working on the race car of Lake Speed, a Ford-sponsored Nascar driver. Both GM and Ford include motorsports in their marketing mix.

GM uses the Goodwrench name for title sponsorship of several races and for sponsorship of Nascar driver Dale Earnhardt.

Mr. Klahn said Ford has changed the way it leverages the Nascar sponsorship of Mr. Speed in tune with the new focus. Previously, the division took 20,000 Motorcraft parts distributors and customers to Nascar races. This year, the invitations will go to technicians, service advisers and other service employees who achieve quality goals.

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