A hot new marketing tool is coming, a little late, to the automobile business. It offers real potential for many models and divisions.
Call them affinity groups. You know, like the folks who venture down to Tennessee for the Saturn reunion - just for Saturn owners.
Or like the Viper owners who showed up by the hundreds to spend time and swap stories with other Viper owners. An older affinity group is for Jeep owners. They have been going to the Jeep Jamboree for years to enjoy their vehicles and climb mountains in a week-long party.
Car companies are realizing how hard it is to replace owners, so spending some time, attention and money on existing owners is a lot cheaper than trying to attract new owners.
And they see the HOGs.
HOGs was the idea of the Harley-Davidson company. The company started the Harley Owners Group. Each buyer gets a year's free membership; after that he has to pay to remain a HOG. They have trips and parties and special merchandise. Now, I don't know Harley's loyalty rate, but I'd bet that any car company would love to have an owner body that strong.
We're going to see a lot more affinity marketing to help build loyalty. Of course, it's easier when you're selling Corvettes or Porsches; it's more challenging if you're trying to get Nissan on its feet again. The Z-car owners probably already have an owners' group. My guess is that the Mustang owners are the largest automotive affinity group, but they aren't controlled by Ford.
We could see Cadillac doing all sorts of things with its owners, whether it's offering them tickets to a local golf tournament or special prices on accessories.
The potential is huge, and after dabbling in it for some years, the automobile companies are starting to get beneath the surface. What could improve owner loyalty more than constant communication with the car company about free gifts or opportunities available only because they bought 'that' car or truck?
It's getting tougher and tougher to keep owners. Competition is fierce. Groups like the HOGs are perfect for building brand loyalty and holding on to happy customers. Owners will love to brag to their neighbor about how smart they were to buy 'this' car, because they are being showered with attention. And it works just as well for the dealer.