Ford Motor Company has been evolving since its introduction in 1899 and today it is the third largest automaker in the world. With headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, Ford manufactures and distributes automobiles across six continents. Today the company employs over 175,000 people and operates 65 plants worldwide. The company’s automotive brands include Ford and Lincoln.
Despite having been around for over 100 years, Ford has not made the mistake of being resistant to change. As new forms of media arise, Ford branches out to establish a presence in each one, consistently making an effort to connect with audiences across multiple forums.
“Customers are spending as much time with the mobile smart phone or online as they are watching TV now, so our advertising dollars have to flow to where the people are,” Farley told Reuters. The goal, he explained, is to successfully “break into their world.” .
In 2010 25% of Ford’s annual budget was dedicated to its digital marketing strategy. In 2012 that grew to 38% suggesting the company views this as a high priority. Successfully engaging consumers in the digital space requires a company to understand how the public perceives them, developing a plan for change where needed, and committing to proper execution to achieve its goals.
Ford takes ownership of its social presence with its blog titled Ford Social. This site becomes a one stop shop for consumers to engage with the company in the online space.
The title of the blog says it all. It is a place for audiences to socialize with Ford. Visitors can discuss experiences and pose questions about the company’s products in a collaborative setting. It is much more than a place for Ford to post internal thoughts or messaging around products and partnerships. It has embraced the interactive side of social media and created a user friendly environment for consumers to engage with not just the company but also with one another.
One of the strengths Ford demonstrates here is the setup of the blog. It is aesthetically appealing and very easy to navigate. It is compatible in mobile view. The only downside is the menu falls to the bottom of the page as opposed to the top.
There are 5 main sections to the blog:
In this section they feature articles about products and the company. These blog posts are by the company for consumers. It is a collection of articles relevant to the company’s brands written between 2009 and 2013.
In this section consumers have a chance to make their voices heard when it comes to experiences with Ford and Lincoln products. Users can create a blog post for all to see in this for consumers by consumers section. It looks like Ford understands the value of word of mouth advertising. The consumer posts in this section are not only stories but testimonials that have the potential to influence other consumers.
The blog also has a space to capture ideas from consumers in 6 main categories: CONVENIENCE, GREEN, INFOTAINMENT, PERFORMANCE, PERSONALIZATION, and SAFETY.
The final two sections are where you can view and submit images and videos. A culmination of user generated content and content from the company.
To encourage the conversation across the web, users can also get ford badges to post and share throughout social media sites.
Contextualized Banner Ads
The blog is not the only online marketing tactic Ford is actively engaging in. Here’s a crazy statistic, and one that made me raise an eyebrow.
According to AdWeek, in 2010, Ford became the first marketer to create an interactive banner ad campaign using a technology called Search API DoubleClick Rich Media. Google acquired the technology in 2007 and the idea is depending on the context of the Web site a consumer is browsing, the most relevant Ford content is pulled and displayed, using video from the Ford YouTube channel and information from Ford websites. Think about it, you’re visiting a site about going green and preserving the environment, and then you notice a banner ad about Ford’s hybrid models. Or you are on “manstuff.com” (don’t know if that’s real I just made up the name but you get the point) and the banner ad shows Ford’s super tough truck models. It is more common know to see targeted banner ads, but just think Ford was the first.
The Ford You Tube Channel is a one stop shop for Ford TV. Viewers can peruse current advertisements and promotions for upcoming products or features. In addition to product information, users can also view videos on vehicle amenities like MyFord Touch and MyLincoln. This can generate interest from potential customers and also provide clarity for current customers who might not know how to use all the features in their vehicle. Of course Ford does engage in traditional advertising, but in this space it doesn’t cost them thousands of dollars to air their commercials. And since there is only Ford specific content on this channel, its “all ford, all the time”.
Not only does ford have a corporate Facebook page, but it has built pages for each of its vehicles as well. This was a smart and necessary move on their part, as the corporate identity and messaging would be very different from a page dedicated to a specific product. Further, the consumer that is interested in the Fiesta would not necessarily be interested in the F-150. Each product has its own target market and by extension its own areas of focus in communicating with its audiences. Images and video would also be product specific here. That might sound like common sense, separate Facebooks for separate products. But even today its not something all companies practice.
The same setup applies to the companies twitter presence. There is a corporate page and then pages dedicated to specific vehicles. Consumers can engage with products of interest.
Let’s not forget tools that let Ford go everywhere you go. Want to know what it’s like to drive a ford, before going to the dealer?… Check out the test drive app – that’s right you can virtually go behind the wheel of select models. Want to know about vehicle features inside and out – there’s and app for that! Check out the vehicle tour app. Still want more? Well while I can’t say they thought of everything, there are a multitude of apps that allow users to interact with different vehicle models and also tutorials on how to use the MyFord Touch Technology.
Pulling it all Together
One example of a product that Ford had a consistent focus on from conception through launch across all digital mediums is the Ford Fiesta. This campaign was very interesting, here’s how it worked:
Prior to launch 100 people were provided with the European version of the Ford Fiesta 18 months before it began being manufactured and released in the USA. These individuals were encouraged to share their experiences with the vehicle over the following 6 months on their Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube accounts.
So what happened?
- 11 million Social Networking impressions
- 5 million engagements on social networks
- Sharing and receiving
- 11,000 videos posted
- 15,000 tweets
- Not including retweets
- 13,000 photos
- 50,000 people were exposed to the product either in person or through video and expressed interest in finding out more about the Fiesta after launch
- 97% of these people were not current Ford owners or drivers
- 38% awareness by Gen Y about the product.
- This was accomplished prior to any marketing spend in the traditional advertising space
This is interesting especially since Bullas (2010) also points out that the Ford Fusion model did not amount to that much awareness even after 2 years in production and millions spent on traditional marketing.
On the Right Track
I don’t think any one company is perfect with digital marketing, but I do think Ford is on the right track. They consistently evolve their strategy year after year to include emerging forms of media all while keeping their messaging consistent. Each vehicle in the portfolio has varying market segments. The look and feel of the site is dependent on the brand strategy of the model. Ford Social pulls everything into one place allowing consumers to engage with others in reference to each and every product and they can visit vehicle specific pages on facebook or twitter.
The one thing Ford does seem to get is the importance of user generated content. With the growth of the internet comes an increase in the importance of trust from consumers. People do not want to simply visit a site where a company is projecting thoughts or cleverly crafted messaging on their own products; instead they want to know “what does everyone else think about this brand?” How does it work for them? What do they think of the customer service. Fords digital marketing strategy embraces the importance of trust, functional web design and functionality, and creating a place that genuinely fosters consumer engagement.