DETROIT - Brand management is gaining a larger role at Ford Division.
The division is assigning brand managers to each of its 16 product lines.
While the division has had brand management for more than a year, the assignments give the marketing strategy new influence. Ford says each vehicle line will now have more efficient brand supervision - from product development to pricing.
The changes strengthen brand management at the division - which sold 21 percent of all cars and light trucks in the United States last year - and in the auto industry as a whole.
Brand management was widely resisted by Detroit's insular automakers until the 1990s, although it had been embraced by marketers of nearly every consumer product in the United States.
Ford Division's new brand strategy also more closely resembles that of General Motors, which hired brand managers for each vehicle line in 1995.
GM adopted brand managers at the urging of then Chairman John Smale. As a young brand manager at Procter & Gamble in the 1950s, he persuaded the American Dental Association to endorse Crest toothpaste.
A brand manager's overall task is to persuade consumers that a brand is worth paying extra for.
At GM and Ford, a brand manager's first job is to define a vehicle's identity and its target customers.
Brand managers work with designers and engineers on vehicle execution. They also try to bolster the brand with effective advertising, merchandise and pricing.
'There is a certain discipline to brand management,' said Darryl Hazel, Ford Division general marketing manager. 'It forces you to look at the costs and benefits of actions as they relate to a specific product.'
Ford Division adopted brand management in January 1996. But it created five unusual brand teams that it junked last week.
The division eliminated its 'youthful,' 'family,' 'sporting,' 'expressive' and 'tough' brand groups and managers. Now there is a brand manager for cars, trucks and multipurpose vehicles, along with the 13 brand managers for the 16 vehicle lines.
Ford Division brand managers had formerly handled three to four nameplates.
GM strongly ties some annual compensation of its brand managers to the market performance of their vehicles. The pay for performance links are not as strong at Ford. GM, which hired brand managers in 1995, wanted one person to take charge of each vehicle line to boost accountability for a product's financial performance.
'We are interested in the profit and loss of each vehicle, and I am not saying we don't evaluate that,' Hazel said.
'But we want cooperation across groups,' he said. 'We don't want someone taking action that is detrimental to neighboring vehicles (in the product line).'
For example, the interests of two vehicles - the Taurus and the Contour - have collided in recent years. Rebates and other incentives on the Taurus have hurt sales of the Contour.
PLAN PAYING OFF
Ten of the 13 nameplate brand managers at Ford Division were members of previous divisional brand management teams. The other three were members of medium- and heavy-truck operations that are now being folded into the new structure.
No changes are contemplated in the Lincoln-Mercury brand management organization, said spokeswoman Anne Doyle. Lincoln-Mercury has had brand teams organized by nameplate since it adopted brand management 19 months ago.
Focusing on brand identity already has yielded payoffs at the division, Hazel said.
He added, 'We have had some very innovative ideas and campaigns as a result of having people focus on a particular product and understanding a particular market.'