How Honda Trumped Toyota in the Race for Brand Advocates

MotiveQuest Analysis: Hyundai Also Makes Leap By Sticking With Consistent Message

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David Rabjohns
David Rabjohns
Each month consulting firm MotiveQuest will analyze online discussion around brands in a particular category to determine the winners and losers in an all-important category: consumer approval and advocacy. Its first analysis for Advertising Age looks at the automotive category.

The fast lane: Despite all the media hype about Toyota taking the sales lead from General Motors, Honda overtook Toyota when it comes to consumer advocacy, taking the top spot. Also upstart Hyundai had one of the fastest-growing advocacy scores, which indicates Hyundai is one to watch out for. (Disclosure: MotiveQuest works with Hyundai and Toyota.) Honda was able to attract advocates partly because of its well-received new Accord, which won several car of the year awards.
Related Chart:
Automotive Advocacy Shifts
The brands with the most momentum, as noted by percentage change in advocacy growth

Advocacy for Honda grew by 38% over the past year, while Toyota's advocacy declined by 3%. Though Toyota has been branching out into an ever-increasing variety of sub-brands (Prius, Scion, FJ Cruiser), Honda focused on its core brand. "The new Accord has to be the best car in the mid-sized family sedans for 2008 ... and deserves [car of the year] hands down," wrote one advocate.

There was a lot of change in brand ranking among the top 10 marques between first-quarter 2007 and first-quarter 2008. Acura made the biggest leap, followed by Hyundai. The biggest drops came from Ford and Chrysler. Acura is attempting, with some success, to reinvent itself as a credible player in the premium sedan segment. A new diesel engine and a revamping of its entire sedan lineup seems to have had an impact in its advocacy scores. One prospective buyer declared: "Acura: lots of high-tech gadgets for the money." And another: "I love the ride and feel and gadgets on the MDX."

The second fastest-growing brand was Hyundai. Its advocacy was up 85%, placing it at No. 8 overall. Hyundai's secret? It focused on providing deep value across the board, and this approach has hit home with consumers who like to weigh the pros and cons of every brand online and discuss the details ad nauseam.
Automotive Advocacy Top 10
Change in brand ranking among the top 10 between Q1 2007 and Q1 2008

Lemons: The biggest stumblers were, perhaps not surprisingly, Ford and Chrysler. Ford, the top brand by advocacy in first-quarter 2007, lost more advocates than any other brand, finishing third in first-quarter 2008. At the heart of the problem is a lack of product innovation. One former promoter lamented, "[The] difference is that Acura, Lexus, and Infiniti are much more distinct in all the characteristics described than the rebadged Fords are. ... Lincoln-rebadged Fusion, Edge, F150, Crown Victoria. The new MKS uses the 500 platform [but doesn't] modify it or use different body panels. Point is Lincoln has no identity other than being a gussied up Ford. And Ford fans don't like to hear that, but it's true." With its rich American heritage, people want to see Ford succeed, but positioning the brand's iconic oval within a patriotic context is no longer enough for U.S. buyers.

Moving metal: Honda and Hyundai's success in getting advocates foreshadowed recent sales success; the two companies posted a 31.9% and 26.3% gain in May car sales, respectively.
David Rabjohns is founder-CEO of MotiveQuest, a word-of-mouth consultancy headquartered in Evanston, Ill. Prior to founding MotiveQuest he was executive VP-director of brand planning at Leo Burnett and also worked at Saatchi, PepsiCo and IBM.

Momentum: The brands with the most momentum -- percentage change in advocacy growth -- were again the Asian brands, with Infiniti, Hyundai, Kia, Acura and Lexus all attracting more and more advocates to their brands. All of these brands seemed to have realized that mass marketing and media spending is not enough in a new consumer-controlled world. Making products that are worth talking about is the key, and their focus on product innovation is attracting more and more people to their badges.

Methodology: The rankings were developed by looking at the top general automotive forums, blogs and groups representing about 10% of MotiveQuest's database of more than 35 million consumer automotive conversations. The Online Promoter Score takes into consideration a wide variety of key drivers and was developed jointly by MotiveQuest and Northwestern University and has been shown to correlate with sales.
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