Ford is launching ‘cars with personality’ to change perceptions

By 2021 Ford will do more than “just sell cars” according to its marketing boss as it looks to develop electric cars, autonomous vehicles and services. But right now it is looking to refresh its brand image with a fleet of new vehicles, and personalisation is key.

Ford Fiesta

In keeping with founder Henry Ford’s ethos of bringing products to the masses, car marque Ford’s future focus is on increasing accessibility to electric cars, autonomous vehicles and launching its shuttle services in European cities.

But while the brand has its sights firmly set on the future it is not complacent enough to ignore the present. While Ford’s ‘brand love’ is still strong, it does have something of a perception challenge, according to Richard Beard, marketing manager at Ford of Britain, particularly as consumer choice grows and products evolve.

He says: “There is a high level of love for the brand – it’s our job to try and make more of those memories more recent because people have grown and developed.”

The issue comes when fans “think back too far” and talk about their love for products the company no longer makes.

Beard says: “While people have tremendous affection for what they grow up with we need to find new reasons [for them] to love the brand and be relevant today.”

Earlier this year Ford launched its Unlearn campaign to get people to reconsider what Ford means to them. It was launched with its Edge, Mustang and GT vehicles as those were “products the man on the street wouldn’t associate with Ford”, according to Beard. The brand is looking at doing a follow up later next year to continue to build brand affinity and challenge the perception of Ford now and in the future.

Cars with personality

As part of this drive, Ford has launched four new cars as part of its next generation Ford Fiesta range, which offer customers more personalisation options.

Talking to Marketing Week at the launch event in Cologne, Germany earlier this month, Roelant de Waard, European vice-president of marketing, sales and service, at Ford said: “Consumers don’t migrate to the largest car anymore, irrespective of budget [and have] started to develop particular tastes in terms of the personality of the car. Historically it was about budget but now they want a certain type of car. That is what inspired the new cars, it’s not necessarily price but style.”

Beard describes the Fiesta as “the bellwether for Ford in Britain” as it’s this country’s best selling car and “a fundamental part of the passenger car portfolio”.

Historically it was about budget but now they want a certain type of car.

Roelant de Waard, Ford

Ford’s sales rose 7.5% in first half of 2016 to 718,700 vehicles, which is its best first half total vehicle sales since 2010, best passenger car sales since 2011, and best commercial vehicle sales since 1993 across its 20 traditional European markets. Market share was flat at 7.7% for the first six months of the year.

Use of programmatic

Ford’s key audience is digitally savvy, according to De Waard, so the brand will use programmatic buying to allow it to target consumers better. But he predicts that TV will “strike back” as its trading becomes increasingly programmatic.

He says: “TV continues to be a very powerful messaging machine, [it’s] also unique in providing an audience all the same experience that can be shared and talked about because [other people] will have seen it as well.”

“When you get very targeted online, you might be the only one having that experience and exposure to that message,” he adds.

READ MORE: Why P&G is moving away from targeted Facebook advertising

Whether it’s mass market messaging or the directness of digital, the consumer perception of Ford as a brand has to reach customers at the showrooms too.

De Waard believes that the challenge is greater when talking to a smaller group via digital communications. He says: “To manage the purchase funnel is the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity, especially with that targeting you will be talking to a smaller group.

“If you are targeting in-market customers, they are [in the market to buy] and your retail network has to deliver on the promise of reaching out to them.”

The link between retailers and the manufacturer or communicator is very important, for the brand. “We have a programme for that,” says De Waard. “We use mystery shopping and surveys. We have a good feel, mostly from the buyers. The biggest challenge is to get the information from those that didn’t buy.”

The marketer says there is often is a large group of customers who are not buying Ford but are sympathetic towards the brand. The brand perception is there but the product might not exist yet.

This goes back to the demand for cars with personalities. He says: “People are very determined and know what they want and they will not, no matter how much they love you as a brand, buy another product other than what they have in their mind.”

He adds: “It was our task to have that product and develop those personalities. Customers are prepared to buy Ford but we just have to give them the right car.”

Ford mustang
The Ford Mustang was showcased as part of the Unlearn campaign to shift perceptions

Focus on services

While selling cars is obviously a major part of the business, Ford’s long-term vision is also about being a key part of the wider transport industry and seeing off disruption from tech giants such as Uber and Google. The brand has to ensure it makes technology available to a mass market without alienating its core audience that know and love the Ford brand.

Addressing car dealers, investors and journalists at the event in Cologne, Ford CEO Mark Fields, said: “The world is becoming more crowded and urbanised, issues of congestion, emissions, road safety, declining air quality and a strained ecosystem are affecting each and every one of us and at the same time consumer attitudes and priorities are changing.”

With this in mind the company mission continues to be making transportation accessible while simultaneously “disrupting itself” by expanding the business to become an auto and mobility company.

We need to find new reasons [for consumers] to love the brand and be relevant today.

Richard Beard, Ford of Britain

Ford has recognised the shift from owning to owning and sharing, working with partners to launch a shuttle service in Europe to reduce urban congestion – a $4.5bn investment in electrified cars and a mission to put autonomous vehicles on the road by 2021 completes the vision to go beyond “just selling cars”, according to the CEO.

READ MORE: Ford looks to ‘disrupt itself’ with focus on driverless cars and shuttle services

“I believe customers want technology but they want it [to be] effortless,” says De Waard. “Henry Ford had a wonderful saying, he said, ‘if I would have asked what customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse’.

“So it’s up to us, knowing what technology is available, to turn it into solutions and present that to customers, where they say that is what they wanted but they needed us to dream it up for them.”

To balance technology with accessibility, Ford is launching an app called Ford Pass that will cover the entire ecosystem of owning a vehicle. It will link the car’s onboard communication systems and also serve as an app to access car sharing and rental services and connect consumers to their car dealers.

De Waard says: “Our challenge is not to have all these unique communication systems but something you can operate without having looked at a manual.” The app is part of putting the “complex mobility world in the palm on your hand in the most simplest way”, he adds.

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