Ford President of the Americas Mark Fields on In-Car Digital and Social Technology

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I've been holding back on one more Ford post, as I wanted to get something up on Advertising Age's DigitalNext blog where I've joined as a regular contributor. There, you can find excerpts of my interview with Ford President of the Americas Mark Fields; it's a more bite-sized highlight reel and you may find that's all you need; if so, no need to reed further.

Over the past week or so, I've posted a number of entries about Ford  — including a recap of meeting Ford CEO Alan Mulally, a column about the future of in-car search with Director of Connected Services Doug VanDagens, and the full interview with VanDagens — because it's a great story about new applications for technology that should prove to be very pervasive. As consumer adoption escalates and behaviors change, marketers will inevitably follow suit. These new opportunities for marketers could combine the best parts of marketing through billboards, radio, local search, and mobile – all for a very captive audience.

Ford's team also covered so many angles. While VanDagens talked a lot about search (unprompted, mind you – I wasn't even thinking of my column at the time), President of the Americas Mark Fields talked more about social media and listening to customers. As I did with VanDagens, the video is included below followed by the full text of the interview (slightly tweaked for readability) so you can choose how you get it, or share it if you find others would be interested.

Mark Fields: My name is Mark Fields and I'm President of the Americas for Ford Motor Company.

David Berkowitz: How did this happen where a car isn't just for driving? What do you see a car as being about?

MF: A car used to just get you from Point A to Point B. What a car is becoming now is not only getting you from Point A to Point B, but allowing you to stay connected to the entire world as you're doing it. We've introduced our Sync feature which basically allows any Bluetooth-enabled device to be connected to the car through the audio system in the car. It keeps people connected as they're driving they're vehicle and they're able to be more productive, but it's also very important that they stay connected to wherever they want to stay connected to, whether it be a person, or their music, or traffic directions – those types of things.

DB: You're making a car sound a lot like a social network.

MF: Very much so, when you look at where the trends are going, and people wanting to be connected, and wanting to know where other people are, and what they're doing, etcetera, it's going to become more and more a piece of that – it's what people are going to expect out of their vehicles.

DB: How pervasive is this mentality? Does this go into the design of the car? Is it more about what features are added on to it?

MF: I think in terms of the design of the car, what we're using for our Sync platform, what it allows us to do – it's an open platform, so we're using an open platform and using the creativity of all the programmers that are out there to develop applications. Our expertise, what we bring to the party, if you will, is all these applications are out there that we can access through our Sync system and through the customer's handheld device, the phone, etcetera, to access the cloud, so to speak — the expertise that we bring is what's the customer's experience with the application while they're in the vehicle. What's the format and how should it be presented? How do we make sure that it's not a distraction to the driver so much that safety starts becoming a risk? That's where we're trying to integrate both the outside world and the driving experience and doing it in a way that delivers you there safely.

DB: I was hearing your CEO talk about the car as a platform and I'm hearing you talk about the open API, and I feel like I'm talking to people from Google or something. It's just not the image I think most people have when talking about Ford or any car company for that matter.

MF: We're spending a lot of time as a company listening to customers. I think in the past, we've listened as just a car company, providing transportation, but as you listen to customers and what they do with their lives, we've had to broaden our thoughts around that. That's why we started working with Microsoft. That's why we're coming to CES every year, to be part not only of the learning, but hopefully to be part of the discussion of really understanding the trends and what customers want, and then seeing, as a manufacturer of cars, how we can help integrate that. It's a very different way of thinking about the transportation business than we have in the past.

DB: Given the channels available with digital media, are you finding new opportunities for listening to your customers, and are you finding your customers are using these more to communicate with you?

MF: Absolutely. When you look at our Sync system, for example, we get lots of input back from various blogs, but also our own website SyncMyRide, and we get a lot of feedback from customers who are either using Sync and are providing us lots of feedback for improvements, or customers just in the blogosphere that maybe don't have experience with Sync but have wants and needs and say, "Why can't a car company do this? Or why can't a car company do that?" But we're really using the Web, the cloud, the social media as a very efficient way of doing a lot of market research in real-time. Whereas in the past as a car company what we used to do if we were going to come out with a new feature, well we'd go out to a couple of different cities to do some market research, then our market analysts would really crunch the data… but now you get it real-time.

DB: It sounds like you're pretty well versed. So you're seeing this yourself – this isn't something that you've outsourced to someone ten levels down.

MF: The other reason it's so important to us is word of mouth in the car business is very important, but with social media, etcetera, that's completely turbocharged word of mouth. So we really need to listen. We really need to listen and use it to help us become at satisfying the customers as opposed to just ignoring it. I think any company that
ignores it does it at their own peril.

DB: Do you do that yourself, just to poke in and see what people are saying?

MF: Oh yeah, I try every morning to go on various blogs and see what they're saying about Ford Motor Company, see what they're saying about our products. We do specific research on themes that are coming through in the blogosphere. It's really important to us, particularly as we try and have our Ford products and brand appeal to a new generation.

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