Creating a winning digital model
An effective social media strategy needs to build enough advocates so your real story is out there.
- March 2012
- Jim Farley, Group Vice President, Global Marketing, Sales and Service, Ford Motor Co
- Transparency and honesty are the currency of marketing. Customers want to hear from real people because they’re believable. Authentic brands are winning today.
- Turn to your customers for content, then make it sharable. Not only will your customers develop content that is “real” and resonates with other people, they’ll share it. Without making content sharable, customers won’t be able to speak about your brand as easily.
- Make listening an ingrained part of your culture – starting with the CEO. To do that effectively, the organization needs to be flexible and develop new processes for communicating what your social media listeners are hearing into the company.
- When you give up control of your brand, the community will start to govern itself. This behavior can become a powerful brand asset. An important part of an effective social media strategy is to build enough advocates so your real story is out there.
Build trust with transparency and authenticity“Transparency and honesty are the currency of marketing. Let people speak. Invite them to tell your story. I’m talking about your front line people and your customers. If you’re going to speak, you better speak like them. Never say ‘please hold for the next available representative.’ That’s not how human beings talk.
People think of Ford as a bunch of Midwest white guys who don’t get it. So the first thing we did is we put our front line engineers to talk about the company because they’re believable. Then, as soon as people start buying our stuff and believing in the brand, we allowed our customers to speak for us and that’s what we’re doing now. We never write a script for them. We just let it happen. We set it up in just the right way so people pay attention but then really it’s about that individual customer or engineer telling their story.
Our bet on the messaging side is really to put the branding in the customers’ hands to enable them to share content and really to give a voice to our own employees’ stories. People care about people. Reality is an important aspect to understand in this transformation. People want authentic experiences. They want the brand to be believable. It’s why authentic brands are winning today.”
Turn to your customers for content, and make it sharable“What I care about is how many people and how much content we’re producing as a brand. To produce a lot of content, you have to ask for help from all the customers.
As an example, we took 100 Fiesta cars one year before the US launch, which had a budget of about $100 million. We used $5 million and ran a contest using social and digital media to find 100 super savvy social people who had big social graphs to drive the vehicles for six months. We gave them a budget every week to do weird things and they would share their experiences with all their connections. We were very intentional about who we chose.
Fast forward to a year later. We had never run a traditional ad, yet we had higher name-plate awareness than the two leaders in this car segment. We’d spent just $5 million and reduced our traditional media spending by half. Our 100 drivers were like super nuclear reactors of content generation. The scale was unbelievable. Eighty-three percent of the people that wound up buying a Fiesta had never owned a Ford before. We achieved 60% name plate awareness with $5 million. In our industry, that costs $60 million. We learned that you can’t do this every time, but you can do it more often than you think.
Customers won’t speak about you unless you create engaging content that is shareable. It’s our responsibility to create really cool content that’s shareable.”
Make listening an ingrained part of your culture – starting with the CEO“As we bet on social media to go to market with our products, we have been so surprised by the importance of being flexible and listening to the community. That’s what we’ve learned through the Fiesta movement. We listened to these people. They told us what was cool about the car, which was totally different from what our engineers thought was cool about the car. It changed our company. Part of listening is accepting, of course, the negatives and the positive; it’s not a matter of choosing the positive stories.
One of the most important things we did is we put Scott Monty in charge of listening all day. He is literally the eyes and ears of the company. Whenever Scott hears something and thinks CEO Alan Mulally can help, Alan will stop whatever he’s doing and help. There was this guy Mark who Tweeted us: ‘I’m a Volkswagen/Audi guy and I’m driving this new Edge sport, and I think it’s pretty cool.’
You can’t do this often but it’s important to have that flexibility and it’s important to treat the social/media listeners on the front lines in your company with a different process than the people in the call center. Everyone matters, but it’s a way to teach your whole company the dexterity and flexibility that’s really required in today’s market. You don’t get social media because a couple of executives use social media. It’s either part of everything you do or not.”
A self-governing community is an important brand asset
“People own our brand. It’s a joke for us to think that we own the brands. It’s their conversation, and the sooner we give up the brand to them, the better off we are.
An important part of going to market in social is to understand how to build enough advocates so your real story is out there. If you invest in people who know your company more than they normally would, the conversation will become more self-governed than you think. This self-governing aspect of the social world is a very important part of your insurance policy.
As an example, we had a very high-mileage Focus customer on Facebook who went on about how fuel economy is our number one deficit. The reality is we lead in fuel economy and in more segments than anyone in the U.S., but no one knew. So, this customer is going off about their poor experience with a 10-year old Ford, and the community came around on our behalf and said: ‘You’re driving a 10-year old car; that’s not where Ford is today.’
It was very refreshing that this conversation would happen and we didn’t have to get involved. You should have that confidence. People are going to tell you this is scary stuff but just understand that the self-governing aspect of the community is a really important element of a social media strategy.”
The auto industry has traditionally used a lot of metrics and analytics, many of which were built to support the traditional way of doing things. What are the analytics that you look at now and that you really care about?
“The most important metric is brand favorability, which we measure every month in every country in the world now. Especially in the areas that really drive favorable opinion because when we did the analysis, we found that the correlation between favorability and pricing power is about .9. That means every point of favorability at Ford Motor Company in the US is worth $150 top line pricing in every model— even the old ones. I could tell you what that pricing is for every market in the world now. We’ve monetized the favorability connection to pricing and so we look at that pricing— back line pricing, net of equipment and the favorability as the most important metric that I care about.
The second metric I care about in the social digital space is the amount of content we’re generating, including engagement with the content. I’ll give you an example of a blow-away metric. We recruited a guy named Ken Block who is racing and doing stunts for Subaru. We hired him away because we knew we were going to get serious on these small cars: Focus, Fiesta and a whole sport line of these products and we wanted to get someone like Ken on our side. Ken said, ‘I think I can do an online YouTube video that I think will be incredible content.’ So we literally spent $15,000 and he did a seven-minute video of driving the vehicle through a factory. 44 million people spent 7 minutes with our content. That’s bigger than Super Bowl, and much higher engagement.”
How do you measure engagement?
“It’s share-ability, how many times a person shares that content. In fact, we will do content just to measure that. We were thinking how do we go on Facebook and be cool? We knew Mustang was a brand that people connect with the company even if they didn’t buy it. So we came up with this customizer that lets you customize a Mustang. You put it out it out in the social space and other people tell you which one is cooler. I think there are 100,000 different versions of the car you can create. You have to generate content like that all the time and what I measure on the customizer is, not only how much content, i.e., how many versions of customizer did we build, but how many times does it get viewed and most importantly how many times does it get shared?”
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