On a recent airport layover I picked up a copy of Business Week with picture of a Model T on the cover. The cover story was about Ford’s efforts to revamp their company, their brand and their marketing department.
After reporting record quarterly losses and a 50% reduction of market share since 1995, the company identified its marketing operations as those that could revitalize the slumping auto giant. So it hired a chief marketer away from Toyota – a creative and innovative leader among US car brands – and set on a new course. Put simply, James Farley’s task is the epitome of the “easier said than done” mantra: Infuse a market culture into the Ford Motor Company.
What did he do?
- Restocked their creative agency, WPP, with fresh, accomplished brand gurus from around the globe
- Invited 30 of their most influential sales dealers for a candid series of focus group meetings on everything from branding and slogans, to advertising and sales incentives
- Reorganized his team with brand managers reporting directly to him – ensuring bureaucratic procedures don’t fracture the new brand messages
The result is a renewed faith among the iconic auto maker’s faithful. Rising gas prices and decreased consumer confidence can be a death blow to a company that introduced the SUV and whose sales are decidedly pick-up truck-heavy. But with a few fresh ideas and a new commitment to sound marketing tactics the future appears brighter than it has in years.
Seems to me that restocking the creative agency and reorganizing reporting structures is akin to putting lipstick on a pig, the end result is its still a pig.
Meeting with the dealers is a reasonable start. However, Ford (and GM and Chrystler) needs to change the very nature of how they perceive the world. Their mindsets have them competing with a 1980’s approach in a new millenium.
What’s required is to rewire their brains an focus on creating superior value for customers, rather than copying each other and flogging rebates.
Ford is not a bad as GM – I predict GM is show down their North American operations within 15 years. Chrysler is a wild card. Perhaps they are going to make it. Time will tell.
Fair point ryster. I wonder if we’re not seeing some of that rewiring in progress. As my dad used to say, people don’t change unless the hurt is bad enough. I think US car manufacturers are hurting pretty bad these days, but as you say, time will tell whether or not these changes are substantive or merely cosmetic.
I just saw this update on Ford’s decision to use social media to create buzz around the new Fiesta. They’re giving out a few cars and asking the recipients to write about their experience. They’re cultivating a word of mouth campaign in the place where their target market likes to talk. For innovation’s sake, I hope this works well for them.
Nice update Peder, how things have change for the car industry since you wrote this!