The Automotive Brand and Clicks Connection

ford fusion

Image from: Ford Fusion / Shutterstock

For some companies, a website is merely a mechanism to steer visitors toward a purchase. Others see additional value, including serving as an extension of the brand and even as a venue to build brand equity. Millward Brown Digital favors the latter. But which view is correct? Is the connection between brand and website visits evident?

To validate that, Millward Brown Digital surveyed about 1,000 gen pop consumers on their brand-related perceptions of five mid-size sedans: Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion and Chevrolet Malibu. We used a subset of the elements that are part of Millward Brown’s pioneering Meaningfully Different Framework (MDF), which defines and measures brand strength[1]. For each model we asked about four attributes, using an 11-point scale for each. Next, we matched survey results to those same consumers’ observed online behavior and analyzed the results to see whether there was a connection between brand perceptions and online behavior, in this case visits to specific websites.

Survey Says: Dynamism Distinction

We first assessed the survey results independent of clickstream data. For example, one of the four questions reveals each model’s “dynamism” (extent to which it “sets trends” relative to the segment). Each band in the columns represents a combination of the results. Fusion led the set with 44% of respondents scoring Fusion 8, 9, or 10 (the top three scores possible). Fusion was followed closely Camry and Accord; Malibu trailed the set at 35%.

Grouped Results for Dynamism

Survey Results across Metrics and Models

The chart below shows top-three-box results for all five models and all four attributes. The better the result, the further from the center. Accord and Camry lead on “meets needs” and “affinity”[2]. As noted above, Fusion leads on “dynamism;” it also leads on “uniqueness.” Altima and Malibu do not lead any category. Potentially reflecting the nature of the segment, “uniqueness” scores for all models trail scores for all other attributes by a notable margin.

top three box share by model by attribute

Connecting the Dots

To complete the last piece of the puzzle, we created a single score for each model by simply summing the results across the four questions[3]. We then averaged respondent results based on the extent to which those respondents visited (1) the brand website for that that model (yes[4] or no) and (2) any automaker website (yes or no). For context, we also included results independent of site visits.

If there is a connection between brand and online behaviors, we should see some of the strongest results for respondents that both scored a model highly and visited that brand’s website. In fact, we do—with one notable exception. For most models, the highest scores are associated with the most relevant online behavior: visiting that brand’s website (left-most column for each vehicle).

Fusion has the smallest lift to the YES/Same OEM group, but scores for all behavior groups are above Malibu and Altima. Malibu has the biggest lift, but the lowest scores otherwise, suggesting that is a mechanism for activating existing brand preferences among a select group of consumers, or alternatively suggesting that the Chevrolet site was effective in enhancing respondents’opinion of Malibu. In fact, that group scored Malibu higher than the Accord/ group.

The exception is Altima. It scores amongst the lowest for all groups but in particular among respondents that visited (the lowest scores but by only a narrow margin). That suggests visiting the site either degraded respondents’ perspective of Altima or that the site content was not consistent with overall Nissan messaging…or that consumers visited the site for reasons other than brand equity (that could include checking deals and incentives).

model scores based on categories of observed online behavior

Digital Power

These preliminary results show a positive connection between brand results and online behaviors, reinforcing that a company’s website is more than just a sheep-herding tool. It can be useful for activating existing brand preferences and an important extension of the brand-building experience. To fully leverage the brand/online behavior connection, these considerations are important:

  • Include the full battery of meaningfully different survey questions (i.e., all elements of the Meaningfully Different Framework)
    • These could reveal more about motivations among Altima and Malibu shoppers
  • Integrate digital behavioral results into ongoing brand tracking research
    • This will help reveal causality in brand vs. online behaviors
  • Consider other means to leverage the results, such as:
    • weighting different elements
    • assessing the uniqueness of given model’s score (so likely more of a differentiator)
  • Indentify other online behaviors that should correlate positively with brand strength
  • Analyze behavioral results over time as another measure of the immediate and latent success of brand-centric ad campaigns

To download the PDF version of this research, please click here!

1 The extent to which a brand is meaningful, different, and salient is revealed through a battery of questions, results of which are then analyzed collectively to produce several brand strength measures. This analysis used only a subset of all questions and so does not represent the full battery of possible brand-related results.

2 “Affinity” questions uses a scale of-5 (hate it) to +5 (love it); other attributes are 0-10 (10 = best).

3 More complex analyses are of course possible (such as by weighting attributes and/or including the uniqueness of scores and/or including the influence of ownership) and these could reveal even more about the relationships.

4 For example, a “YES” for Accord would represent respondents that visited

About Lincoln Merrihew:
Lincoln Merrihew is the Senior Vice President of Transportation at Millward Brown Digital. At Millward Brown Digital, Lincoln is responsible for steering the Transportation Team, which encompasses the automotive and travel practices. Before Lincoln joined the Millward Brown Digital team, he worked at TNS Custom leading the Automotive team, and then continued on there to lead business development for 10 different industry verticals. Lincoln's career aspiration is to create game-changing solutions and insights. Connect with Lincoln on LinkedIn.