With visions of Eminem in mind and only mildly panicked that my car knowledge was little to non-existent, I headed to Detroit to visit Ford’s Design & Innovation Fantasy Camp and the North American International Auto Show. In Detroit ‘Motor City’, hit hard by the recession that the US is still reeling from, Ford is making a concerted effort to look ahead, and in doing so is crafting a bright future.
In stark contrast to the chill in the air and the dead sunflowers lining the roads in Dearborn, Michigan, the Ford Headquarters is brimming with enthusiasm for the times ahead with design & innovation forging the way. These are a few things they are getting right.
For a brand established 87 years before the invention of the world wide web, Ford is taking giant leaps into the sphere of social media. Ford’s head of social media Scott Monty explains the progression, “When you think about it, people have always talked about their cars, since Henry Ford’s time. You bring home a new car, you park it in your drive way, then what do you do? You talk to your friends, your neighbours, your family members.
It’s a social object, if you will, and always has been. Only now, people are having these conversations online…they’re having them in places where we can listen. We can get their feedback, we can even jump in to have conversations with them. So it’s really always been a fundamental part of how cars are sold and thought about. Only now, we’re actually able to participate in it and give people even more reasons to talk.”
Ford understands the value of online coverage and to ensure they had as much of it as possible they invited 145 bloggers from 16 different countries to visit the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) to witness the launch of their shiny new baby the 2013 Ford Fusion (which unfortunately isn’t available in SA). We were also invited to explore the Ford headquarters and design & innovation centre and to share what we learnt.
In a surprising but smart move, Ford didn’t limit the invites to only auto blogs but instead invited design, eco, tech, lifestyle, fashion and even parenting blogs to spark conversation about the brand in vastly different fields (countries and languages!). The fellow design bloggers being particularly impressed with the line-up of a panel discussion, held at the Ford headquarters, which was made up of Scott Belsky – the founder & CEO of Behance, Adam Volker – the lead story/concept artist for Moonbot Studios, Joel Piaskowski – the director of exterior design for Ford and Evan Orensten of Cool Hunting.
Their online media strategy paid off with some admirable statistics:
After 1 day at NAIAS, Ford received over 2200 social media mentions across Google +, facebook and twitter. Their twitter coverage reached approximately 5 million followers. 40% of the coverage of the NAIAS was about Ford – 18% about Chrysler and 15% about General Motors. Normally share of voice for the Ford Fusion among its competitors is 9,5%. During the media launch and throughout our day at NAIAS this jumped to 58,5%.
Not bad, huh?
If Ford strives to be one thing, it’s innovative. From their marketing strategies to embracing the latest technologies. Their SYNC voice-activated technology system allows you to connect to your car via your smart phone and have a conversation with it, Knight Rider style. You can command your car to read your texts out loud to avoid texting and driving – cue Oprah rejoicing. Other customizable functions include searching business directories and then accessing directions to the place you’re looking for, scanning through music libraries to select your fave tunes or checking the weather, all hands free. The options are endless. For someone who is wowed by a functioning air-con, this was tremendous.
A highlight was being let in on the design processes. Ford uses motion capture ala Avatar to study how people move in and out of a car and how they use the interior features – cup holders, rear view mirrors, hand-brake etc. To save time and money, before the models are actually built they can be virtually ‘test driven’, not unlike a driving game, and incredibly detailed ‘is it real?’ CGI models are critiqued on screens 12 x more powerful than HD TV.
An interesting concept to hear about is Ford’s new global design philosophy ONE FORD which will bring an end to different silhouettes and features for different markets or countries. Instead, Ford worldwide is working towards a globally recognizable Ford look.
Like with all car brands, a move to eco-conscious manufacturing is inevitable. One way Ford is addressing this is by using natural, recyclable products like soy beans, corn and grains to create polyurethane foam and biodegradable plastic for the car interiors. They are also set to release five new electrified vehicles in 2012.
I am now well schooled in the ways of car design, big brand marketing and where the industry is headed. Thanks for the crash-course, Ford.
Tip: If you’re ever in Detroit, visit the incredible Henry Ford Museum.
See more pics of the North American International Auto Show (including other brands) HERE.
Ford Motor Company paid for my travel and accommodations at the 2-day Innovation and Design Fantasy Camp event, I was not compensated in any other manner for my time. My opinions posted here are my own.