The purpose of this dissertation is to reappraise the subject area of relationship marketing. Introduced in the early 1980s, the research area has continued to evolve. Yet, after almost 40 years, relationship marketing still appears to be a mosaic of various definitions and contributions from different academic tendencies, justifying the following research intentions.
This dissertation is submitted in partial fulfilment of the MSc Marketing degree at the Lincoln International Business School. It is designed as a case study based on the automotive industry and the leading German car manufacturer Volkswagen. Considering the scope, the study is structured among six chapters: introduction, literature review, methodology, data presentation, discussion, conclusion. Besides, primary data was collected from marketing academics, a Volkswagen marketer, and Volkswagen customers. The time frame was originally set from 26th May 2020 to 21st September 2020 but was then extended to 20th October 2020 due to the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Given this setup, the research aim is to identify what the true worth of commercial relationships in B2C car markets is. Hypothesis testing aims then to reveal whether the interpersonal aspect of relationship marketing is overemphasised in the literature and if customers merely seek functionalism in practice – or not. Against this backdrop, six more investigative questions shall provide insights to answer the overall research question appropriately.
In conclusion, relationship marketing theory needs to be redefined to the extent that the primarily functionalism-driven relationship between a carmaker and its customers rests upon delivering reliable cars for genuine brand advocacy in return. Personalised engagement can foster this relationship, but it acts rather supportively and is not the main trigger for customer retention. Admittedly, this case study only argues for the mid-range price segment of the automotive sector and does not represent other industries, calling for future replication studies.
Keywords: Relationship Marketing, Customer Retention, Customer Relationship Management, Functionalism, Mobility, Automotive Industry, Volkswagen, Theory Development
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