Ford Motor Co. is zeroing in on the consumer.
But forget about merely transferring the lessons taught by expert consumer marketers, such as the Procter & Gamble Co. and Coca-Cola Co., Ford President Jac Nasser told the Automotive News World Congress.
'Cars and trucks are very different from other consumer products like toothpaste, orange juice and razor blades,' he said.
Soft-good marketers 'latch onto a few small differences' between their product and the competition's and advertise those differences heavily, Nasser said. Often, the ad budget is the greatest product expense.
'That formula doesn't work with cars and trucks,' he said. 'The consumer investment is too high, and the discernible product differences are too important. So the approach must be different.'
In recent years, Ford and General Motors have been trying to find a way to create unique brand identities for mass-market divisions and vehicle nameplates. GM, in particular, has explored Procter & Gamble's marketing approach.
The auto industry is rife with examples of successful brand strategies, Nasser said.
At Ford, the Ford Explorer, Lincoln Navigator, Ford Mustang, Ford Thunderbird and Jaguar models pack a strong brand punch, he said. Outside Ford, Volkswagen and BMW are the heavy hitters.
'Volkswagen probably has done the best at platform differentiation and keeping the brands distinct,' Nasser said. 'BMW is one of the most focused brands in the world.'
EYE ON THE CONSUMER
Nasser's focus on strong brand identities is part of an overall push to keep Ford's attention on the consumer. Since late 1996, Nasser has preached to employees that they must think like entrepreneurs, acquire business acumen and be ever-conscious of shareholder value.
Now the message is: Never let the consumer out of your sight.
'Over the next few years we will be remaking Ford into a different company,' Nasser said.
He wants to transform Ford 'from a solid performer as an automotive manufacturer to a su-perior performer as a consumer-focused company.'
'It will change how we do everything, from design to engineering to manufac- turing to sales and distribution,' Nasser said.
For example, in the past totaling costs meant looking at manufacturing, supplier and warranty costs, he said. Now, Nasser wants to total up the bill from the consumer's perspective, including the cost of vehicle ownership, repair, service, financing, insurance and residual value.
Nasser assumed the Ford presidency Jan. 1. At the same time, William Clay Ford Jr. took over as nonexecutive chairman.
The executive-suite sharing is 'a natural ' for Ford and common in Europe and Asia, Nasser said. 'We're aligned in the strategies we pursue.'