BRAND DNA STRATEGY DEFINES TARGET CUSTOMERS, ADDS FLAVOR TO FUTURE DESIGNS
"Why would anybody go out and spend U.S.$50,000 on an SUV?" asks popular culture expert Dr. Michael T. Marsden, dean and academic vice president at St. Norbert (Wisc.) College. "There is no rational reason. It's an emotional purchase."
Emotions are key to the new Ford Brand DNA strategy. Starting at the end of last year, a cross-functional team of 12 managers began determining exactly who is buying Ford, Lincoln and Mercury products and -- perhaps most important -- why.
To better support Ford's mission of being more customer-focused and brand-driven, the Brand DNA team launched a redesigned Web site recently with a host of new features and improved graphics and navigation. On the site, employees can share stories of success about Ford's brands, test their knowledge of brand positioning in a weekly poll, and even download vehicle images to add to their e-mail signatures.
"Defining who these target customers are has translated into bold moves," says Ford Brand DNA director Mary Lou Quesnell. "Before this, everyone had a different opinion about who the customer was, so we ended up delivering vanilla."
Bland flavor is far from what Ford, Lincoln and Mercury customers crave. After analyzing survey data from 39,000 customers, the Ford Brand DNA team has categorized them as Lust4Life, American Dream and Savvy Individualists.
Lust4Life, the Ford target customer, is driven by a strong sense of spirit and optimism. These folks live all across the country and come from multicultural backgrounds but share common values and attitudes. The world is to be experienced fully and in the company of family and friends. Lust4Life customers are willing to try new products that promise to improve their everyday lives, but insist on buying American when it comes to an auto purchase.
Meanwhile, the Lincoln target customer has been dubbed the American Dream. These are self-made men and women who are proud of where they came from. They continue to be motivated to make life better for themselves and their families, and believe they deserve recognition for their hard work. To them, luxury purchases are a reward rather than an indulgence. When car shopping, these customers look for refined American design with smooth power on demand and exceptional comfort.
Finally, the Mercury target customers are Savvy Individualists. They see themselves as clever and enjoy standing apart from the crowd. These educated and culturally-diverse customers delight in discovering obscure shops or hole-in-the-wall cafés. They seek the latest trends, but try to avoid being viewed as mainstream. Savvy Individualists desire sophisticated and expressive vehicles with features for their techdependent lifestyles.
"Those categories sound right on the mark," says St. Norbert's Marsden, who teaches a course about the automobile in American culture. "If you go back to the '50s, you were either a Ford person or a Chevy person. You were defined by your personal connection to the design and aesthetics. Lately, the American car industry has entered into the doldrums. But if Ford can use this approach to get an emotional response, they can win back that loyalty."
That's precisely the plan, says Quesnell, whose team members are protecting the Ford Brand DNA identities across every functional area of the company, from product development to marketing. "The first step was defining what the product should deliver" based on what the target customer expects and wants, Quesnell says. "We all need to live the brand and be the customer. What are their expectations? And how can we meet them on a daily basis?"
To that end, Quesnell's team has created brand rooms that bring each customer to life, such as the F-Series version in Regent Court. "With hunting and sports equipment hanging on the walls, it physically feels like you're walking in to an F-Series customer's garage," Quesnell says.
Tread cautiously, though, says dealer Ronnie Thompson of Ronnie Thompson Ford Mercury in East Ellijay, Ga. "People get their feelings hurt" by being lumped into stereotypes, the dealer says. "I don't know that we need different approaches for different groups of people."
Thompson also worries about Ford Brand DNA's decision to eliminate entire categories of potential buyers because their purchasing tendencies don't mesh with any of the company's product lines. Says Thompson, "We can't afford to lose even one customer."
But Quesnell says those non-targeted groups -- such as Fast Company, people who always buy imports and tend to be egocentric -- are not the future of Ford. "The three categories of target customers align beautifully with our brands," she says. "And brand clarity leads to bold moves."
"Bold Moves is not a tagline," Quesnell says. "It's an entire platform. We have a Bold-o-Meter: If it isn't bold, it's not an option. Bold Moves is working. It's changing the way people here behave. It's helping us be quicker and more responsive and produce unique products."
Marsden is watching with interest. "With the exception of their truck lines, Ford has not been differentiated in the market for some time," he says. "This is an exciting approach. And I think people are ready for something exciting now more than ever. It's not just important for Ford; it's important for the American economy."