Have you ever wondered how the topics for research are born?
The idea for one of Dr. John Story’s current research studies came about after frustrated comments from his wife and others concerning terrible drivers of certain vehicle brands. As a result, the curious associate professor of Marketing at Cameron School of Business began to wonder. So he wandered to the internet to do a quick search for “brands with the worst drivers.” And well—he learned that many, if not most of us, have vehicle brands that we hate because of the way others drive them.
The worst vehicle brand drivers
Nationally, BMW gets the worst rap. No offense, BMW. But Story focused his research on the Texas market, Houston specifically, and discovered surprises.
“Yes, I raised my eyebrows at several things,” the researcher said. “First, Houston-area drivers named different brands than those identified in a national study. BMW came in fifth in the Houston area, behind Ford, Dodge, Chevrolet and Toyota. Second, I was surprised at the reason for the regional difference in perceptions. It turns out that the type of vehicle someone is driving is a much better predictor of driving behaviors than the brand. Houston has a lot more trucks, and they exhibit many more of the behaviors that drivers dislike.”
The most hated driver behaviors
What are those behaviors?—Tailgating, failure to signal a turn or change of lanes, driving in the left lane when not passing, and speeding.
Story’s investigation involved surveying drivers and recording several hundred hours of video where he coded the behaviors using actual measures. For example, did they use a turn signal? How fast were they driving? How close were they following?
Customer driving behavior limits vehicle brand image control
“The real learning here is that companies have only limited control of their brands’ images,” he explained. “Our perceptions of brands depend, to a large extent, on our observations and experiences. So companies can’t rely simply on advertising to build and shape their brands.”
This information gives Ford and Dodge pickups an idea of their positions on a perceptual map relative to other brands. They can then decide whether they want to support or try to change perceptions.
The most important takeaway from this research phase is that brands are very fluid and can vary depending upon how customers use them and how the rest of us observe that behavior.
Story’s first article out of this research was published in the Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice [Story, J. (2020). Brands we love to hate: differences in perceived versus observed driver behaviors. Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice, 28(3), 242-255]. A follow-up study is underway.
When asked what kind of vehicle he drives, Dr. Story wrote, “A Subaru Outback (which I love), but I often wish I had my Ford F-150 truck back.”