Ford plots digital drive

04 January 2011

DEARBORN, Michigan: Ford, the automotive giant, is seeking to leverage digital media across its marketing, sales and innovation operations.

One of the company's recent strategies was introducing the latest Fiesta in the US by allowing 100 influential bloggers to drive the cars for a month, and then upload feedback to sites including Facebook and YouTube.

The results of this initiative were equivalent to those typically generated using traditional TV campaigns - but at a far lower cost.

"Going from zero to 60% unaided awareness, at ten cents on the dollar, was a watershed moment for us as marketers at Ford," Jim Farley, Ford's group vp, global marketing, sales and service, told The Hub Magazine.

"It changed a lot of people's minds both inside and outside the company."

Another example of this shift was the American unveiling of the Explorer, which was achieved via Facebook rather than at an industry event.

"I'm sure the auto-show organisers weren't particularly excited about that, but it was much more effective," argued Farley.

"By combining earned and paid media, and picking a date and launching it on Facebook, we got much broader coverage."

While such methods imply a certain loss of control, Farley believes consistent innovation will be essential to long term success.

"What I've learned – and what Ford has learned – is that your tactics are going to have to evolve quickly because everyone's experience online is evolving quickly," he said.

"The novelty of social media will wear out only if you become stale and begin to think that one-size-fits-all."

However, the carmaker is moving beyond marketing in exploiting new communications channels, having recognised the enormous potential of mobile marketing.

"I see convergence of the access point. The digital experience is now more and more living on a smartphone than in your bunny slippers in your house," said Farley.

To tap in to developing habits, Ford has, in partnership with Microsoft, created a system called Sync.

This gadget enables consumers to make phone calls, hear text messages and choose which music to listen to through a voice-activated panel.

"I know that we're going to have customers who want more information about their neighborhood and they are going to be asking Sync to tell them about that," Farley predicted.

"The way you interface with the cars is going to have to live up to an Apple-like experience."

Ford has seen demand for units equipped with this tool rise more rapidly than those without, and plans to employ other emerging technologies elsewhere.

It has added codes to its vehicles on forecourts that shoppers can scan using a handset to find out extra details, while sales reps have video content on their mobiles to show prospective buyers.

Looking ahead, Farley suggested adopting a similar model to Best Buy's Geek Squad, which helps customers solve common problems, could prove vital.

"I want a Geek Squad type of delivery, where someone comes to their house and explains how MyFord Touch Sync version 6 works, because they have version 2," he said.

"I think that is not too far off in the distance for our industry," he said.

Data sourced from The Hub Magazine; additional content by Warc staff