Auto parts retailers and online mechanics have long been able to rely on product quality and the niche nature of what they sell to set themselves apart. But as online competition grows ever fiercer, they’re now turning to the consumer-friendly branding strategies long practiced by their B2C cousins. 

In fact, designers in every industry can draw inspiration from auto industry websites, from the consumer-savvy manufacturers at the helm to usability-first auto supply websites. Check out our favorite industry trends below:

1. Sleek, Minimalist Styling

It might seem counterintuitive, but there’s a lot of overlap between the automotive and tech worlds when it comes to branding. Both industries trend toward visuals that highlight a similar set of ideals: speed, progress, power, and a focus on cutting edge technology. The design elements that embody these qualities are chrome-tinged and polished to perfection. 

No brand blurs the line between tech and automotive quite like Tesla, pictured above. From their dark colors and aerodynamic lines to frequent PR crossovers with SpaceX, Tesla wants you to know that to own a Tesla is to invest in the future.

2. Product Searches Made Easy 

Ecommerce sites with large product catalogs are driven by the need to help customers find what they want as quickly as possible. So it’s no surprise that the best auto supply websites, which sell tens of thousands of parts, have all cracked the code behind efficient product searches. Sites like this have a tendency to reject some of the slickness we see on more consumer-friendly automotive sites. Instead, they favor the cleanest and simplest interface that will get the job done. 

The auto parts supplier AutoZone accomplishes this with not one, but two site search features displayed prominently on the home page. Users can enter their search directly if they know exactly what they’re looking for. If they don’t, they can use the drop-down tool to fill information about their vehicle’s make and model so the website can help narrow down their options. 

3. 3D Images & Virtual Showrooms 

Long before automotive ecommerce became widespread, furniture and apparel retailers struggled with the challenge of helping online shoppers benefit from the same information that in-store shoppers had at their fingertips: size, comfort, fit, and the overall impression of the product after viewing it up close. Creative solutions to the challenge, including 360-degree views and virtual showrooms, paved the way for dealerships testing out an ecommerce model. 

For Carvana, one of the first fully-ecommerce auto dealerships to emerge, perfecting the virtual showroom was an integral part of helping customers feel comfortable making large purchases sight-unseen. Prospective buyers can take a 360-degree look at the vehicle’s interior and exterior, open doors and trunks, and get a detailed rundown of imperfections if the car is used. Shoppers also have easy access to documents that include a 150-point inspection and the car’s Kelly Blue Book value. 

4. Lifestyle Imagery 

It’s no surprise that car manufacturers have been pioneers in branding from the very beginning — they have a big story to tell, and they don’t have a lot of time to tell it. While you might think of driving shots or clean product showrooms as the bread and butter of automotive branding, manufacturers actually rely heavily on lifestyle imagery to tell their story. 

Take Porsche, for example. The luxury auto retailer isn’t shy about portraying the lifestyle its target market connects to. Featuring impossibly good-looking people, professional attire, and lavish-yet-attainable settings, the brand sets up an aspirational ideal. With enough reinforcement, people will come to associate that ideal with owning a Porsche. 

5. Precision-Focused Persona Targeting 

When auto manufacturers identify their core personas, the results aren’t subtle. Watch a pickup truck commercial in Texas and you’ll see sweeping landscapes punctuated by Americana and rugged, salt-of-the-earth people. Watch a Jeep commercial in Utah and you’ll be greeted by off-roaders and adventure-seekers. Watch an SUV commercial in a major city and the imagery will shift to soccer games, camping, and families. On the whole, you won’t have to guess who the brand’s target market is; they’ll hit you over the head with it. 

That’s actually not a bad thing. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you’re doing it wrong if you can’t express your brand values subtly or if you feel like you’re shouting who your core audience is from the rooftops. But those reservations are based on the assumption that people are paying as much attention to your brand as you are. Car manufacturers know better than anyone that when the world’s attention is divided between millions of brands, it’s okay to use shortcodes to tell your story. 

No brand knows its target market quite like Subaru. The outdoorsy and down-to-earth cars are a favorite in the Pacific Northwest, so Subaru’s imagery and messaging is designed to resonate with Northwest values. Their product shots often aren’t complete without a couple of bikes on the roof and a messy golden retriever in the back seat. And their messaging, while never overly political, aligns with liberal Northwest values by emphasizing love, individuality and environmental activism. 

6. Trust-Inspiring Iconography 

When it comes to trust, mechanics and doctors have a lot in common. Snake oil salesmen lurk in both industries, and there tends to be a big knowledge gap between the doctor or mechanic and the audience. When those factors combine, customers get jumpy — how can they know they’re not being taken for a ride? One way to accomplish this efficiently is with icons and other visual cues that convey trust. 

Your Mechanic, a mobile mechanic website, prominently features visually- and verbally-clear icons that sum up three major reasons you can trust them. On top of that, they cleverly list the names and logos of popular publications that have featured the business, creating an implicit association between those trusted brands and the mechanic. Last, they connect their brand to a friendly face by eschewing slick imagery for warm, smiling candid shots of mechanics hard at work.

If your own business operates in an industry you wouldn’t naturally connect to great branding, take inspiration from the auto industry: your brand doesn’t have to be kooky, slick or full of buzzwords to connect. It just has to be you. Let the team at Grow With Studio help you find or tell your brand’s unique story!