Ford eyes mobile messaging as part of tonic to banish brand apathy

It may be a globally recognised brand but Ford believes not enough people across Europe feel strongly about its cars and so it is exploring how mobile messaging can be used to address that apathy.

The car marque has toiled endlessly along with its peers to establish their individual brands in the minds of drivers but as they switch to an always on model there’s a need to nurture their personalities beyond quarterly campaigns. Attempts to do so far have tended to focus on trying to sell the car, according to Mark Truby, European vice president of communications, who is trying to implement a more holistic customer experience that spans pre and post-sale.

He cites Nike’s fitness ecosystem as a source of inspiration for what his company hopes will amount to “a much better job with the customer experience”. And there’s a strong likelihood that a big part of that will take place within mobile messaging apps like WhatsApp and Snapchat, both of which it’s currently assessing for where they fit in its marketing mix.

“If you think about mobile messaging apps there’s a huge potential to talk directly to consumers, employees and influential; people,” said Truby. “We’re really interested in WhatsApp to do post messaging and have already tested it in this way at certain motor shows. Snapchat is another interesting [platform] with its Stories feature and I’ve seen some really impressive stuff on it. The game is not won and lost on media relations anymore and we’ve got an opportunity to really have a conversation with our fans and our critics in richer ways.”

Another of those ways could be Facebook Instant Articles, with Truby admitting it’s a platform Ford is considering whether to publish content directly into. “We haven’t even started with that [Facebook Instant Articles] yet and it’s not even up and running. The potential is pretty exciting using tools like this where you don’t have to leave the platform.”

Part of these developments will be informed by the company’s newsroom, which is staffed by experts from a myriad of backgrounds including journalists, graphic artists, photographers and videographers.

The company’s ‘FordPass’ platform will also have a part to play in getting people to think of it less as a means to an end and more as a key part of their daily lives. ‘FordPass’ is an app that allows drivers to complete a multitude of tasks, from starting their car and calling for roadside assistance to locating car share features and accessing other brands. All the while the app is giving the company real time feedback it plans to use to improve customer services and deliver better experiences.

A better customer experience alone won’t make people love Ford and the brand is relying on its advertising to do some of the heavy lifting. Earlier this month at the Geneva Motor Show, it launched the latest luxury Vignale model with a 60-piece choir made up of its employees in a bid to show a more emotional side to the blue oval via the commitment of its workforce to the product. The stunt (see above) secured 467 pieces of media coverage, drove more than 3,400 mentions on social media and footage of the choir has been viewed more than 11,600, according to the business.

“The product itself has to be more emotional, which is why we’ve added more performance vehicles and SUVs over the past two years, however our communications need to capture that feeling too,” said Truby. “We want to become better storytellers. Everyday we’re having meetings about how we can tell a better story; things that are going to excite people and will want to share.”

Ford is already trying to do that through its latest campaign in the UK, which asks drivers to unlearn what they know about the brand that redesigns its logo using a colourful font that sits outside of the traditional blue oval.

“In the UK we’re a market leader and while some people feel the passion and emotion behind the brand, not enough do given our heritage,” admitted Truby.

The shift in focus comes as Ford’s European gathers momentum after it successfully completed a remarkable turnaround of its fortunes last year. Income for its European division was $259m before tax against a pre-tax loss of $598m in 2014. Ford has earmarked SUVs, performance cars and luxury models to lift its margins and overall profitability in 2016, with its newsroom strategy and focus on software services set to underpin those products as they are rolled out.

“Typically 90 per cent of the time and money in the automotive industry is spent trying to sell the car and very little time is spent on the relationship after that until it’s time to buy again. That’s the opposite to what Nike does…we’re building out platforms so we can actually keep engaging."

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