ford motor company

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A Moment of Silence.

“I’m so sorry for your loss” is what most people say at funerals to bereaved family members.  We say it because it works for people we’re close to and also for people we don’t know well.  Sometimes, though, words are weak — especially words everyone says.  Gestures, on the other hand, are strong.  A silent hug. A sympathetic frown. A teary, quarter smile. These things often say much more.

Words are not feelings.

As marketers, we often live our lives through words.  We type, we text, we speak, we present. The words we create are used to develop pictures, videos, audio and interactive media.  But often they are still just words. I’ve noticed a trend in TV drama lately where the best shows cut down on the number of words.  Shows where the white space between the words is amplified.  It makes our minds work harder. Anticipate. Ruminate. Feel.

Good marketing and marketing communications do not heavy up on useless chatter. Great art director know this. I believe it was James Farley of Ford who said “Great advertising makes you feel something then do something.” Word! (Oops)  Peace. 

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Greed in marketing is nothing new.  Being different. Acting different. Selling differently…all support creating a competitive advantage and making more money. But greed is not a good thing.  It has ruined the economy (mortgage-backed securities), kept the U.S. beholden to terrorist oil states, and no doubt played a role in many hatreds around the world.  Sometimes greed needs to reach a breaking point before it succumbs.

Yesterday’s announcement between Ford and Toyota, to work on a hybrid engine for pick-up trucks may be a good sign for the planet and for marketing. The U.S. gov’t smartly threw down the gauntlet in terms of miles per gallon goals for vehicles recently and this new rear wheel drive engine is a massive step toward meeting those goals. (Anyone home GM?) Normally, greed would have kept a deal like this from happening, but Ford and Toyota are showing good judgment and forward thinking and they woman-ed up.  Oh, and the only reason it is happening is because Alan R. Mulally and  Akio Toyoda (company CEOs) ran into each other in the airport and probably actually liked one another.

As we marketers put our plans together, fill in our charts and goals and KPIs, how about we ask ourselves a simple tough question “If I wasn’t going to be greedy, what new company strategy might I employ?” As my Norwegian aunt might have said “Tink about it.”  Peace!  

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Ford Huevos.

Huevos. Pronounced way-bose.  For my non-Spanish friends that means eggs. It was reported today that Ford Motor Company has decided to drop plans to re-enter the minivan market in the U.S.  Instead, it’s turning a Detroit plant loose building small hybrid cars with the silly name C-Max. Small cars.  Hybrid only.  Let the other knuckleheads build the minivans. Huevos!

My daughter drove from Long Island to Baltimore to see her boyfriend and the EasyPass bill just came in.  It showed about $50 in tolls round trip. Sans gas.  During rush hour, the Long Island Rail Road from Babylon to NYC (about 40 miles) costs $27 round trip.  The gub-ment is charging us healthily for transport.  Why?  Because it’s hemorrhaging money, thanks to bail outs. Who did we not bail out?  Ford. Why? Huevos.

If you follow this blog (Google whatstheidea+Ford or GM), you’ll know that I’ve been ranting about gas guzzlers and large cars for years.  Adapting and adopting are American traits. Pioneering traits.  I Tweeted this morning that as a nation if we put as much collective energy into clean tech and green tech as we put into Anthony’s Wiener, we might actually become the nation of pioneers we once were. Peace!

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It was reported by Stuart Elliott in today’s New York Times that Lee Jeans is using Mike Rowe as its spokesperson.  Mike Rowe, the guy from the Ford commercials, is the star of America’s Dirtiest Jobs (or whatever it’s called).  His fame comes not from the show, which probably does a 2.2 rating on Cable, but from walking around Ford showrooms and using his sing-songy manly voice. 

 The fact that Mr. Rowe is the news of the Lee Jean advertising story shows how shallow the strategic idea really is. Moreover, Lee has 3 agencies carving up the work: Arnold Worldwide, GroupM (for media), and Barkley of Kansas City for PR and didge. The total budget is about $10M and you know a chuck of that goes to Mr. Rowe. 

So let’s recap. National challenger brand. No identifiable, differentiated brand strategy (comfort a man would love?). A spokesperson famous for selling cars. A limited “jump ball” budget shared by 3 partners.  And a product with little to talk about. About right?

The Fix.

Arnold is actually a good shop with breadth.  Lee should go all Joel Ewanick on itself and give them the entire business.  Then turn Amber Finlay loose, Arnold’s new head of digital strategy. I bet she could multiply the dollars.  Lee needs a little brand spanking and, if allowed, Arnold is the kind of shop that can do it. Was there a buy-out clause in Mr. Rowe’s contract?  Peace!

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It’s a new world at the Ford Motor Company, or at least it should be.  The recession changed things.  The oil economy is changing things. BP has changed things. It’s time to let the Ford Explorer go. The move would be more than a symbolic gesture to the world that smaller, efficient cars are our future — it would give the company major cred as an agent of change.  I know the new redesigned 2011 Explorer will target 25 miles per gallon on the highway, but those are not exciting mainstream numbers anymore.  And touch screens aren’t a reason to buy a car.

The Ford Escape is your future in this class.  It has a nice design, momentum, and it’s in synch with your other newer smaller offerings, the Focus and Fiesta.

Make the 2011 Explorer your swan song.  A collectors piece for loyalists.  Then put your engineers on to designing the next forward looking new model… one that captures the imagination of the U.S. buying public.  The next Mustang. The next T-bird. A car that will lure back Toyota buyers. You have been playing offense and winning. Keeping the Explorer alive seems like defense. Peace!

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The Ford Story

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Ford Motor Company does not really have a campaign today. An old mentor of mine, Peter Kim (now deceased), once told a very important client that “campaigns are overated.” The Ford story is not a “Drive One” campaign story – it’s a lot of little ones.

It’s social media stories curated by Ford’s Scott Monty. It’s leadership demonstrations by CEO Alan Mulally. It’s smart marketing directed toward millennials, the next generation of car buyers. It’s a promotion where a 100 cars not yet available in the U.S. are given to average Joe and Jane bloggers to drive for a year. And for the tech-savvy it’s a cool product like v.2 Sync the in-car software that in the future will have the ability to shut down texting while the car’s in motion. For motor heads, how about a newly engineered engine that offers V8 power with V6 fuel efficiency. Or the Edge that goes beep-beep when you are about to back into a fire hydrant?

This is a car company that smelled the Starbucks and decided to do something. A lot of somethings. This is a car company that is showing, not telling. Ford is rebuilding an American car company with good product, forward product development and no campaign. The story is a wee bit disorganized, but the gestalt is that this company is beginning to win – on many fronts. And Bill Ford deserves credit for getting out of the passing lane for a few miles. Go Ford Go. Peace!

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The brand strategy construct I use is pretty simple: a single brand strategy sits atop three supporting brand planks. The planks need to fit logically beneath the brand strategy (or promise) and contribute to the story. The degree to which these planks are dialed up or down in messaging needs to be managed and measured, then tied to sales results. An even distribution of plank support, i.e., 33/33/33%, isn’t necessarily optimal.

 

Also, dialing up emphasis on one plank may inversely impact attitudes and perceptions on another, so the ultimate goal is a formula.  But here’s a new rub, and I learned this from Ford. Not all planks must be played out in all media.  There may be more efficient and, perhaps, media-appropriate ways to achieve market share gains through the messaging mix.

For instance, let’s say today Ford’s brand planks today are: reliability, innovation and financial stability. Ford is using PR to convey financial stability — it is not playing that card in paid media. Very smart.  The admixture of planks can be media- independent. A plank message better suited for social media, say, than print or broadcast might work harder their to support the promise. Oh shizz, this changes everything.

 

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I rant like a broken CD about the importance of a powerful branding idea to drive business. Nowhere are the positive effects of an “idea” more evident than at Southwest Airlines. Southwest’s suit strategy is “be the lowest cost provider of airline travel in the U.S.” (The “world” should be in their future.) If every fiber of its corporate being is put into reducing costs, today and in the future, the company has a mission…an idea. 
 
But as Carmine Gallo (www.carminegallo.com) would ask: What’s in it for the consumer? The answer is “savings,” but that’s not very message-sexy. So the creative solution to low-cost carrier is “freedom.” You are now free to move about the country. Brilliant idea. Brilliant translation of the idea into creative. Brilliant mnemonic. You can’t say those words without hearing the voiceover.
 
Why is Southwest the only airline to announce a quarterly profit? Its fuel hedge program. Management thought ahead. (Ford, GM, you listening?) Southwest has an idea. When you have an idea, you have focus. When you have focus you can fend off the opposite. Peace!
 

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I love this quote from Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford Motor Company in today’s New York Times“We don’t have a sustainable company if we don’t do this.”  His quote references a pre-announcement that Ford is going to convert 3 of its North American truck and SUV assembly plants to fuel efficient car plants. From the same article written by Bill Vlasic: “The sweeping changes are the result of months of strategic discussion by Ford executives….” Months??? Strategic??? Forgive me for over-simplification, but a junior high school debate team could have made this decision.
 
Anyone with a little foresight could have made this decision. How about 3 years ago when Ford was hemorrhaging billions? Might not they have had some strategic discussions then? I applaud Mr. Mulally for this move, but wish he had made it November 5, 2006. Sixty days after he took over. 
 

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This whole American car thing is getting a little ridiculous. Will someone please strap on a pair of balls and get ahead of the market? Ford is in the news today for cutting 2,000 jobs. GM is in the news today for cutting 2,000 jobs. Could they just be realizing that trucks and SUVs are not their future. Nah. “Let’s cut some jobs.”
 
Back in the ‘80s GM created a different kind of car company – Saturn — because they thought the purchase experience needed changing. It was in part to compete with the Japanese car juggernaut and to break with GM’s past. The cars were a bit smaller too. It wasn’t a great reason to create a new company.  Today we have a reason. 

So, how about one of the big three step up and create car brand that is all about conserving energy and resources? Might that not be a good idea for today? Might it not be a brand that kids could rally behind? Are kids the car market of the future? I mean Ford is talking about car seats made of corn starch or some crap to prove its commitment, but it is just not believable. 

 
We need a new American car brand created by Mark Zuckerberg and friends, not some geeze-mobile from Detroit.  (All deference to Steve Yzerman.)
 

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