LAS VEGAS -- Ford Motor Co. is trying to create a 750,000-strong army of advocates to help get consumers to reconsider its vehicles.
Thats the number of employees, retirees, dealers and dealership employees that Ford is charging with task of spreading the word about the automakers quality gains and new products. That person-to-person outreach is the backbone of Fords multimillion-dollar Drive One campaign that started earlier this week.
Ford on a good day is always about the people, said Jim Farley, group vice president of marketing and communications. The key we want to unlock is ourselves.
The automaker started by briefing company employees and retirees on the plan late last week. Ford told 3,500 dealers about the new campaign in sessions in Las Vegas earlier this week.
For the first time ever at a dealer show, Ford brought in more than 60 company engineers to share specifics of the automakers technological and product accomplishments with the people who are trying to sell vehicles on the front line. Most of the engineers had never met a dealer before in their career, Farley said.
Its a far cry from the cars and bars flavor of past dealer meetings where the activity focused on vehicle displays and socializing, said John Felice, Ford-brand general marketing manager.
Farley offered this example of how the new approach is forging connections that can be parlayed in the sales field:
An engineer demonstrating Fords soybean-based seat foam got more than 100 requests for samples from dealers. Many are in farming communities, but never knew that Ford was using material grown by their potential customers. Now that they know, the dealers can market that connection more directly to local consumers.
The main thrust of the Drive One campaign is to improve favorable opinion of Ford vehicles. That was Farleys No. 1 assignment when Ford hired him from Toyota last fall.
Well have fancy TV ads, but the essence is one human being talking to another human being about Ford, Farley said.
Ford employees are appearing in advertisements and Internet videos. The campaign is focused on telling people about Fords accomplishments in four areas: quality, safety, environmentally friendly initiatives and smart technology offerings.
People both inside and outside the company lack awareness of Fords gains in those areas, executives said.
Its a marketers dream to be here right now because the reality doesnt match up with perception, Felice said. Its that gap between reality and perception that this whole thing is designed to close.
Ford surveyed more than 700 dealers as it developed the campaign. When including regional and local advertising by dealers, Ford says it spends $1.5 billion annually on marketing in the United States. Ford isnt disclosing the specific budget for the Drive One campaign.
Never before has Ford sought so much dealer input in developing a brand campaign, said Mark Smith, a Ford dealer in suburban Kansas City, Mo., and chairman of the marketing and advertising committee on the Ford national dealer council.
The biggest difference this time is that Ford executives really listened to what dealers had to say, said Jeff Robberson of Robberson Ford-Lincoln-Mercury in Bend, Ore.
Its incredibly frustrating to be a Ford dealer and know we have the best showroom weve had and yet we dont have people coming in to consider us, Robberson said. The need for this campaign was huge.