Toyota’s Lead in TotalSocial® Influence Is a Strength in a Tough Year for Automakers

Published by Ed Keller June 17, 2017

Toyota may have come in third among the mass-market automakers for May auto sales, but it leads its bigger competitors in consumer conversations according to our first-ever TotalSocial® ranking of mass-market automotive brands.

The rankings are based on Engagement Labs’ proprietary TotalSocial data, which continuously measures the most important drivers of brand performance with respect to social media and word of mouth conversations.

This should be a strength for the automaker over the next few months as the market turns more competitive. 

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Auto sales are expected to plateau in 2017, even as incentives hit record numbers, JD Powers says. That means automakers need to develop marketing campaigns that entice more consumers into their dealerships. They also need to make sure that their marketing, as well as their customer experience, drives consumers to talk more both offline and online about their brands. As the most persuasive form of marketing, consumer conversations are a proven driver of sales.

Right now, Toyota is excelling at driving strong offline word-of-mouth, where it leads the category in offline brand sharing. This is an indication that its word-of-mouth marketing efforts are getting consumers to talk about the brand. For example, just this week, Toyota has the top two most-viewed commercials, according to WardsAuto. However, it doesn’t fare so well online in either driving brand sharing or getting everyday influencers actively engaged in conversation. In these dimensions, it ranks at #7 and #8 respectively.

It’s also investing in other talk-worthy campaigns. Both Toyota and Honda – which comes in at #2 for TotalSocial – have forged music-industry partnerships designed to build social influence. Since tunes are an integral experience of American drive time, it’s easy to understand the appeal and synergy of such partnerships.

According to Event Marketer, Toyota is taking a “360-degree approach to music that involves live events, media, p.r., social media and philanthropy extensions.” These types of strategies are likely powering the automaker’s strong offline brand sharing.

Meanwhile, Ford, which accelerated past GM for May sales, ranks just sixth among the mass-market automakers in TotalSocial. Although it leads the pack in offline volume, to maintain its sales growth, it will need to invest in marketing strategies that encourage consumers to do more than talk.

Its biggest challenge is that it falls short of its competitors in consumer sentiment both offline – where it’s ranked at #9 - and online where it’s ranked at #7. Improving sentiment is a difficult but necessary challenge for Ford to tackle. In addition, it has lower rankings for both offline and online influence – at #8 and #7, respectively. By creating authentic influencer campaigns that encourage recommendations from “people next door” – neighbors, friends and acquaintances who have positive experiences with Ford - can accelerate its momentum.

Among GM’s many brands, only Chevrolet makes it into the top 10 TotalSocial at #3. Like Ford, it has particularly high conversation volume both offline (#2) and online (#1). However, because there is a direct link between TotalSocial Scores and sales, both GM and Ford could be facing a much tougher sales challenge in the summer months. That’s because these automakers aren’t performing as strongly as their competitors in the other key measures that comprise our TotalSocial score: sentiment, brand sharing, and influence.

Other brands, such as Nissan, and Jeep, that fare well in the rankings are leaning hard on the online levers, scoring well in these dimensions. But they aren’t as doing as well engaging consumers offline. But in failing to cultivate offline conversations, they risk missing out on opportunities to drive sales and marketing ROI, and could be making expensive and misguided judgments about marketing priorities.

Subaru, by contrast, has strong offline scores, yet it falls behind on engaging consumers online. It tops the rankings for offline sentiment and influence, which means it’s doing a particularly good job encouraging everyday influencers to talk about its brand.

Consumer conversations have a huge impact on a brand’s sales and are especially crucial in highly competitive markets. To finish strong, automakers will need to fully understand the conversation around their brands and work all the marketing levers to engage consumers and motivate them to visit dealerships.

Read more about consumer influence among all auto brands in our blog post entitled: "Tesla Pulls into the Top 10 TotalSocial® Automotive Brands, but Audi is the Brand to Watch."