Jim Schroer, vice president of global marketing at Ford Motor Co., says customers should not be 'pingponged' between the factory and its dealers. He wants the company to create a new partnership with dealers so customers see a single seamless company.
The new partnership is vital as Ford tries to capture a new generation of young buyers and future buyers, Schroer says. He says echo boomers - people in their early 20s or younger - are now a crucial group, and Ford must connect with this new generation.
He was interviewed earlier this month by Staff Reporter Mary Connelly. Here are edited excerpts of his comments on several topics.
What Ford needs to do with its dealers:
If connecting with consumers in the new millennium is Job 1, then reforming our relationship with dealers to delight customers is Job 2.
What is wrong today:
It is too separate. There is the factory or the dealer. Then we pingpong the consumer who has a problem with a car. The dealer says, 'It is not covered. Why don't you call the factory?' The consumer calls the factory call center. The factory center calls back and says, 'The dealer should handle it.'
The consumer gets ticked off and goes to buy a competitive brand. That is just stupid.
The new partnership strategy:
We call it two-to-one marketing, not one-to-one.
One-to-one is the factory selling direct to the consumer. There is going to be a lot of one-to-one marketing on the Internet but in nonvehicle businesses.
In this industry it is two-to-one because not only do I have to test drive it, I have to do a trade-in and get service. That ain't changing in the next 100 years.
We are big fans of the clicks-and-mortar strategy that Charles Schwab pioneered. They have their Internet business and their store business, and it operates as one thing. That is what Ford.com being linked to the dealer Web sites is all about.
You can get on Ford.com or a dealer Web site and deal with the factory as if we were one entity.
The impact of the Internet:
The dealers are panicked about the Internet and what Ford is doing on the Internet.
The people who should be panicked are not the dealers. We are always going to sell vehicles through our retail system. The people who should be panicked are the magazine and TV business.
It's a generation shift. We grew up reading magazines and watching TV. The new generation gets it from the Internet.
Shifting spending from traditional media to the Internet:
I can't hazard a guess at this point about how much of our total advertising, marketing and media spending will be Internet vs. conventional TV and print. Four or five months ago, we started pulling back our print budgets because I had to fund the Internet stuff.
Just write down a big, 'More to come.' There are going to be plenty of nervous people in the print and television industries.
On reaching a new generation of buyers:
Making sure our seven vehicle brands connect to a new generation of people is Job 1.
We postwar baby boomers grew up on TV. Our preferences for vehicles changed the vehicle industry. What do we want? BMW, Mercedes, Ford trucks, Explorers, Dodge Rams. But there are a whole bunch of brands that didn't make the transition to what baby boomers wanted.
Now, there are more echo boomers than there are baby boomers. We baby boomers are all about to go off into closed communities in golf carts.
There is a huge risk right now that in the next 10 years there are going to be some automotive brands that don't connect with the younger generation.
How echo boomers differ from baby boomers:
The next generation has not grown up on TV. They are growing up on the Internet. Radio was local. TV was national. The Internet is global.
So what do you start worrying about? You don't just worry about your neighborhood or your nation; you worry about the planet.
There are people in chat rooms from the whole world. The echo boom generation worries about the whole darn world.
How the millennium is accelerating change:
Compound that trend of echo boomers and the Internet by putting on top of that a millennium. It is not the millennium by itself that is important. It is an accelerator. It goes on top of this enormous social change, the transition from baby boomers to echo boomers and the transition from TV to the Internet.
With the millennium accelerator, what was right for the last 100 years isn't right for the next 100 years. That is an echo boomer dynamic. It is not just within their demographic. Everybody in the world is going to go to the echo boomer dynamic. Instead of listening to Mick Jagger, Cher and the Beach Boys, all the stuff is going to be echo boomer stuff, The Backstreet Boys. We don't dominate anymore.
How influential the echo boomers will be in the auto market:
The last 30 years have been relatively stable. Since the 1960s we have been playing 'Who gets the market share?' We have been playing basically the same game, a very conventional game.
Now the new values of the younger generation will spread back across all generations. Just as the baby boomers dominated the psychology and the music, this next group will dominate the psychology and the music. It will be Internet and global.
Ford's goal with echo boomers:
Our No. 1 priority is to make sure Ford, Mercury, Lincoln, Jaguar - all seven of our vehicle brands - are aspirational to the next generation.
The strategy to reach echo boomers:
You have to go out in front and take monster risks and gambles as to what their vehicle preferences will be. For darn sure, they want technology in their cars. They can talk to their computer at age 5. My son does. They expect the technology to be there. It is not going to be cassette tapes, which we still have in cars.
Therefore, we connect to the next generation, globally, via the Internet on the dashboard. It's a combination of a PC and a car.
The job of vehicle brands:
You have to make sure the vehicle brands connect emotionally to the next generation of consumers. You cannot just provide technology and performance. You need to connect emotionally, so they are proud to drive a Ford truck, a Jaguar or a Lincoln. You will see that come through not only in our vehicles but also in the marketing.
For example, what does the next generation like to do? Extreme games express their attitude and feeling toward life: 'I can do anything I want to do.' What are we doing with Ford outfitters and the 'No Boundaries' theme? We are connecting psychologically to the feeling of freedom.
I can argue that our single most important priority in Ford Motor Co. is to make sure our whole family of sport-utilities is the most aspirational, that it connects to a new generation of consumers and stays aspirational to the current generation of consumers. That is not an easy trick. That is hard.