Ford manager: ‘It’s all about product’ in auto businessWritten by Duane Ramsey | | firstname.lastname@example.org
“It’s all about product in our business,” said John Felice, general marketing manager for Ford, Lincoln and Mercury of Ford Motor Company, at the 7th Annual Executive Sales Summit on Nov. 3 at the University of Toledo.
Felice addressed the subject of “Strategic Growth: Capitalizing on New Market Opportunities” as the keynote speaker at the summit conducted by the Edward Schmidt School of Professional Sales (ESSPS) and College of Business and Innovation. The 2010 summit, with the theme, “Growing in an Uncertain World,” was attended by 130 business people.
Things are certainly changing in the political world with the election results of Nov. 2, said Tom Gutteridge, dean of the College of Business and Innovation, formerly the College of Business Administration at UT.
“We’re in business to train tomorrow’s business leaders,” Gutteridge said.
“The economy is not a crisis but an opportunity for business,” said Ellen Pullins, director of the ESSPS and professor of marketing.
Ford aggressively restructured to operate at the current level of demand and changing model mix, Felice said about the automaker with 97 nameplates and brands.
“We accelerated development of new products our customers want and value. We financed our plan to improve our balance sheet by getting a loan before the bailouts and worked together effectively as a team leveraging our global assets,” he said.
Ford decided it had to become more relevant in the small car market by introducing its Fiesta, a global model sold in Europe and Asia, in the U.S.
“We needed to attract new customers to Ford,” Felice said. “Marketing is no longer simple with many more media outlets over the Internet. Global marketing of products is essential today.”
Ford changed its model for a product launch, starting a full year before the actual launch date for the Fiesta. It also used the largest social media launch ever by Ford, he said.
“We created a Facebook community and a dialogue about the Fiesta brand,” Felice said.
The launch began with 100 Fiestas given to 100 U.S. consumers who were chosen from 4,500 online submissions. They picked the “most socially vibrant people” who were then asked to post comments about the product on social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Felice outlined the rules of engagement for the nontraditional marketing model used by Ford.
“Engage customers on their terms and cultivate a relationship with customers so they become advocates for your brand or product,” he said.
“Customer relationships are very important in automotive sales today,” said Tom Schmidt of Ed Schmidt Automotive in Toledo, founded by the namesake of the ESSPS, at UT. Schmidt attended the event, which his family’s dealership supported as a corporate sponsor.
“It grossly exceeded our expectations,” Felice said, reporting the campaign received 300 million media impressions. The Fiesta received a 75 percent vehicle familiarity rating, the best in its market segment, and its market share exceeded the target with 12.4 percent to date in October.
“We closely monitored the feedback and were prepared to respond to any negative comments. The good news is that we didn’t have any crises with it. The worst that happened was that one of the cars was stolen … but quickly recovered,” he said.
Felice said Ford was fortunate to have great products with technology to launch in real time. The company employed an extensive training initiative for dealers to learn how to use social media and manage the immediate demand for the vehicle.
The summit featured two executive panel discussions with members from local and regional businesses addressing the issues of growing in an uncertain world.
The first panel included Ashish Diwanji, vice president of composite materials at Owens Corning; Brad Huebner, CEO of Energy Saver Advisors; and Tom Weisenbach, retired executive vice president of marketing and sales for Xpedx division of International Paper.
The second panel included Rob Bules, vice president of food service sales at Libbey Inc.; Tony Nuckolls, vice president of training and development for Quicken Loans; and Alan Schultheis, founder and chairman of Turning Point, a startup company that evolved from research at UT.
Huebner is a UT business college graduate, and Bules is also a UT graduate.