Jim Farley, Ford Motor Co.'s group vice president of global marketing, sales and service, can barely contain his excitement about several new models in or coming to Ford and Lincoln showrooms this year: the 2013 Ford Escape, Ford Fusion, C-Max Hybrid and Lincoln MKZ. Farley says these vehicles can transform customer perceptions of the Ford and Lincoln brands and boost sales in the bargain.
Since he came to Ford from Lexus in 2007, Farley has pushed Ford aggressively into social media and other alternative forms of marketing.
Farley, 50, discussed Ford's marketing and sales strategy with Bradford Wernle and James B. Treece of Automotive News.
Q: You've got a bunch of electrified vehicles coming out. Do you market them as a group?
A: No. C-Max will be marketed as a fully dedicated hybrid. The HEV Fusion will be marketed as the best Fusion [for mpg]. The Energi, our plug-in line, will be marketed as a subbrand to the brand because plug-ins are a quite different animal. Our research shows that customers really see something you plug in as quite different.
How is the investment of your marketing dollars changing in the digital age?
We continue to accelerate our digital investment, but the big change is not just that.
We're dedicating more money in the prelaunch period. We're taking a very substantial part of that launch budget that used to be only spent when the cars are wholesaled, and moving it six months before the vehicle goes on sale. So what's really changing with Ford advertising and promotion in our budget is the timing of our spend.
We've done that with that Random Acts of Fusion. We did it with the prime-time TV show for Escape. We're finding this prelaunch investment to be extremely efficient, and it allows us to spread our broadcast over a longer period of time to continue to have messaging throughout the year versus a traditional launch which only lasts three or four months.
Does that mean there's postlaunch as well?
That's right. We can make the postlaunch contingent on how well the prelaunch went. If we have six months of orders, we don't necessarily have to spend all the advertising the first three months. We can time it later in the year, six months to 12 months after you launch.
You've made a commitment to social media with the Ford brand. Lincoln customers are different. Do you plan the same mix of social media in the MKZ launch?
The customer we're going after for the Lincoln is different than the customer we've gone after in the past. Digital media is now important for all consumers. The fastest growing group on Facebook are women in their 50s. This whole concept that digital media or even social media is isolated to a bunch of young guys and girls getting to know each other -- it's not relevant any more. It's a global phenomenon, and it's ageless.
Good marketing campaigns in the luxury space better have a compelling social media element as well as digital. The message itself for Lincoln will have to grab peoples' attention in all media. Our marketing is going to have to be compelling enough to conquest customers [so] that they actually sample the product, that they actually do something. It's not enough for our advertising just to educate people that there's a new MKZ, which has been the traditional role of luxury advertising.
Team Detroit hired former General Motors and Allstate marketing executive Mark LaNeve. Did you have a role in that? What role will he play?
Mark Fields and myself, Ken Czubay -- the whole team that works with Team Detroit really saw Mark as a global resource, someone who, as the U.S. market becomes more competitive, could do a fantastic job supporting our dealer ad groups. He has the strategic point of view to help us with everything from Lincoln to our core products, from pickup trucks all the way down to Fiesta, and is a real seasoned pro.
Consumer Reports came out with a vitriolic comment about MyFord Touch. What is your response?
What our customers say is that more than half of them buy Ford because of the technology in a Ford. That's dramatically higher than our competitors. We're seeing incremental customers buy a Ford because of technology like MyFord Touch and Sync. We've been on this journey for almost half a decade now, and what we've learned is that it's been a great addition to be a technology leader. However, with that comes the responsibility of making sure the systems are error-free and they're easy to use.
We've listened to the customers and to third parties like Consumer Reports. All the input is great, but frankly we've been busy for a long time now making improvements.
We have had to change the way we develop and test our vehicles because of our leadership in technology. I think it's something every manufacturer will go through. I'm sure glad Ford is learning first, and it will be the quickness of our reaction that will dictate our continued leadership.
You keep mentioning the importance of being a technology leader. Could you expand on that?
When Ford is at its best, it's a brand that takes innovation and gives it to millions. EcoBoost, Sync, the Model T, the Mustang -- they all have the same DNA.
What makes a Ford a Ford? We think it's the driving dynamics, the design, the in-car technology and the fuel economy. In the United States, those are the key things that make us different.