New J.D. Power and Associates Study Says Breaking Web Site Standards Can Help Automakers Establish Brand Identity

Jan. 1, 2020
Being among the first to break the mold for Web site design can benefit automakers in establishing their brand identities, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2007 Manufacturer Web Site Branding Study (MWBS).
Being among the first to break the mold for Web site design can benefit automakers in establishing their brand identities, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2007 Manufacturer Web Site Branding Study (MWBS).

The inaugural study measured changes in brand perception among new-vehicle purchase intenders after visiting a manufacturer Web site. The study evaluated 25 branding attributes, grouped into four categories: performance, image, product and economic factors.

The study found that utilizing new, innovative design features on a Web site can help manufacturers reinforce brand image in the minds of consumers. For example, Volkswagen's newly redesigned Web site helped them strengthen shopper perceptions of the brand and its vehicles' technological advancements and innovative designs.

"Volkswagen's site offers a completely new information flow centered on a widget-based menu, search, and minimalist page design," said Steve Witten, executive director of marketing/media research at J.D. Power and Associates. "In an industry that has typically been confined to multi-level fly-out navigation, Volkswagen's new design effectively increased the perception that their models are technologically advanced and innovatively designed."

These branding efforts did, however, come at a cost. In the recently released J.D. Power and Associates 2007 Manufacturer Web Site Evaluation Study (MWES) - Wave 2, which measures site usability, Volkswagen's index score had dropped significantly by 32 points from the previous wave of the study, mostly due to navigation and speed issues.

"As powerful a tool as the manufacturer Web site can be in shaping shoppers' brand perceptions, usability must always be at the heart of new site designs," said Witten. "Despite this challenge, Volkswagen has laid a successful branding foundation. With minor Web site usability tweaks, the site could easily be a model for the successful blending of both usability and branding."

The study also found that, among all evaluated manufacturers, shoppers' perceptions of 12 of the 25 branding attributes were strengthened following a visit to the manufacturer Web site.

Premium vehicle brands are doing an excellent job on their Web sites of highlighting the high-performance capabilities of their models and their innovative designs. For example, among premium brands, Cadillac improved greatly in these branding attributes relative to shoppers' pre-site visit perceptions.

"Cadillac's rich Flash feature demonstrations, including drivetrain and suspension, clearly highlight the manufacturer's performance capabilities," said Witten. "Images throughout the site help to convince shoppers that this is no longer their grandfather's automobile, and that Cadillac has reinvented itself with a whole new lineup of innovative designs."

Non-premium manufacturers improved considerably in the branding attributes for being technologically advanced and aggressively designed, relative to shoppers' pre-site visit perceptions. In particular, two Chrysler Group Web sites, Chrysler and Dodge, are strong examples of how non-premium brands can strengthen their technological identities.

"Animated demonstrations of available features, such as GPS navigation and Stow 'n Go seating, leave shoppers with a feeling that these brands don't make the everyday 'non-premium' vehicles," said Witten.

The 2007 Manufacturer Web Site Branding Study is based on evaluations gathered between April and May 2007 from 10,773 new-vehicle shoppers who indicated they would be in the market for a new vehicle within the next 24 months.
About the Author

Mike Anson

Mike Anson is Editor-in-Chief of Styling & Performance magazine. He has road raced in Sports Car Club of America competition and in production-based race cars (the infamous Playboy Cup series). He has participated in off-road racing, including the Baja 1000 and the Mint 400. Mike began his journalism career at Road & Track magazine, followed by a stint at Four Wheeler Magazine. He then handled the start up as the first Editor of Petersen's 4Wheel & Off-Road Magazine. Eventually he moved to Petersen's flagship publication MOTOR TREND as Editor-in-Chief. He worked in public relations for automobile distributors Hyundai and Suzuki.

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