Driving a Vision: From the Boardroom to the Showroom
Project management helps Ford India develop and deploy an integrated marketing strategy for a new launch.
BY PANCHALEE THAKUR
The launch of the new Ford Fiesta in India this July draws the curtains on a nearly two-year long product marketing strategy to bring the premium sedan to the market. Behind the launch of a vehicle is an extensive, multipronged, process-driven approach. It involves project management to bring the myriad facets of the strategy into play in a cohesive manner.
Car manufacturers have their eyes set on the Indian market that is the second fastest-growing automobile market in the world. The booming market has brought in more automobile manufacturers to the country, and many more models, some of them redesigned to suit Indian conditions. The competition has grown stiff with several players vying for a share from the same pie. Identifying the right consumer segment, creating a niche in the crowded market, and targeting consumers at the right place, with the right message, and the right price are crucial. In this environment, a product marketing strategy driven by project management assumes huge significance for the launch of a product.
The Ford Marketing Project Charter
Ford India, the Indian subsidiary of the Detroit-based Ford Motor Company, is fully aware of the challenges involved in launching a premium sedan in a market that already has several models. The all-new Ford Fiesta has to jostle for space among several Japanese and Korean sedans. Ford also has to make a marketing pitch that positions the new Fiesta distinctly from its already existing Fiesta Classic.
The project charter for the new Fiesta marketing defined the business goals, the role for each stakeholder in the project, the timelines, and a governance framework under which the project had to operate. The marketing objectives were derived from the business plan, both in terms of financials (i.e., sales volume and market share), and the brand image it sought to build for the product. Once the objectives were defined, the consumer marketing team developed a strategic and operational plan, execution, and a governance framework.
Work on the product started five years ago, and the product marketing strategy for its launch in India started taking shape in July 2009. Ford has a global product development system that drives its development from the time the product is an image in the designer’s mind to the time of its launch. “Project management is an extremely crucial element in this process. I’d say 85–90 percent of our work is project management, the rest is inspiration. Project management helps us address the challenges involved in a launch, govern the system, and produce the desired results,” says Mr. Sriram Padmanabhan, general manager, marketing, Ford India.
A launch strategy goes much beyond marketing and communication and involves multiple functions such as sales, manufacturing, sourcing, service, and parts supply. The core team employed the structured governance framework to ensure that all stakeholders understood the common goals and worked towards them. The stakeholders derived their function-specific goals from the set of common goals. The governance meetings would start with an update of the common business and marketing goals, function-specific goals and then move to goals that came under each stakeholder.
Global strategy defines milestones
Ford follows a Global Product Development Strategy that is a global cross-functional process to develop and deliver new vehicles that exceeded customer expectations while continuously improving efficiency and effectiveness. Similarly, there is a Global Marketing Launch Process, a project plan that delivers in five distinct phases:
- Readiness – that is tracked through milestones achieved for around two years before the launch of a vehicle
- Strategic plan – that follows after a strategic signoff of the global brand story and helps define the marketing plans, including communications development and budgets
- Reveal –during this phase the product is globally revealed and the communications development process picks up higher momentum
- Launch review –when local launch strategies are finalized and approved
- Marketing production –that tracks the creation and approval of creatives through the various stages of the launch
Mr. Padmanabhan has been part of two such launches, one in Shanghai (China) and the other in Australia. Though the same strategy applies in every launch, local conditions throw up new challenges and opportunities. This calls for customization of the marketing plan. “In India, we have strong relationships with the dealer community. The involvement of dealers in our activities is much higher here than in other regions. For this launch, we formed a sub-committee of dealers that has been an integral part of our communication plan,” elaborates Mr. Padmanabhan.
The target customer in India is also distinct from other parts of the world where this sedan is already on the road. In India, the target customer is a married man with one child who lives close to his parents, but not with them. Ford calls this man, between 28 and 32 years of age, Ajay. In China, the target customer is May, a young woman on her first job after college. Throughout Europe, the sedan sells the most among young women just out of college like May. The communication strategy for India therefore has to be different from the rest of the world. In India, the four-door sedan is about giving the customer the feel of “elevation,” (elevated status) and the communication is attuned toward that. The look and feel has to appeal to young men, whether in terms of the car features or the creatives to promote the car. Customer insights form the basis of the marketing plan of every product launch. In fact, it is on the back of consumer research that product development is initiated. So understanding and defining Ajay was an integral part of the product and communications plan.
Testing the hypotheses with real customers
But how did they find their Ajay in India? It took several months of collaborative effort in which project management played a key role in bringing alignment in the strategy. Ford follows a marketing framework that involves three key elements: understanding the customer, creating an aligned view of the customer with the product, and designing a communication plan that verbalizes and amplifies that understanding. The company employs project management to sharpen its ability to deliver a product in that “white space,” or the potential market segment.
In July 2009, a basic understanding of the target customer emerged in a series of Ford India senior management interactions. But that hypothetical customer needed to be tested out in the market. In the last quarter of 2010, the company conducted what it calls a product immersion event. This exercise involved identifying the product’s “killer features,” along with the other features that go into giving the all-new Ford Fiesta its unique value proposition. A “killer feature” that was identified was the low cabin noise level in that segment of cars.
"We used our customer immersion event to validate and expand our understanding of the consumer, not just for the sake of the core marketing team but also for a wider set of stakeholders."
Mr. Sriram Padmanabhan, general manager, marketing, Ford India
The next stage was to test the hypotheses about the target customer and the car’s selling features on the real potential customer. “Through market research and interactions with the various stakeholders, we had developed a good idea about our customer demographics. Now that needed to be validated. We used our customer immersion event to validate and expand our understanding of the consumer, not just for the sake of the core marketing team but also for a wider set of stakeholders,” explained Mr. Padmanabhan.
In the customer immersion event, top Ford India executives met 12 supposed Ajays to understand their lifestyle, their passions, what excites them about cars, etc. The Ford executives—along with agencies that handle Ford public relations, advertising, market research, and digital marketing—visited the homes and offices of Ajays during late 2010. The media was also invited to witness this exercise. Throughout the interaction, Ajay would not know which company the team represented. That would be revealed toward the end of the meeting. Before the customer immersion event, the value proposition that Ford believed went well with the target audience was “Bold statement, brilliant substance.” After the customer immersion, that was changed to “My style, my distinction.”
Michael Boneham, president and managing director, Ford India (left) and Nigel E. Wark, executive director - marketing, sales and service, Ford India with the newly launched sedan.
After the customer demographics were validated, the next stage was to create buzz about the product in the market. The brief to the creative agencies was clear: create communication that engages the customer and gives him/her a sense of “elevation.” In April this year, the company did a digital launch of the product at a café in New Delhi. The digital reveal of the Fiesta was done in a way that would engage the potential customer. The café offered a digital media experience with a “fan wall” that beamed live social media feeds about the vehicle, chairs fitted with speakers and iPad applications that narrated the car’s features to anyone who sat on it, and a menu designed especially keeping the Fiesta in mind. There was also a digital photography competition and a fashion show to go with the theme. More such cafés are on the anvil to keep the buzz on even after the car is launched.
With a clear view of the customer, a product that is aligned to the customer’s aspirations, and a strong communication plan, Ford India hopes to make a distinct impression on the minds of the customer. An integrated strategy that actively involved the various stakeholders in the process helped attain a holistic view of the market and alignment with the company’s goals. As Mr. Padmanabhan says, “The aligned understanding of the consumer, product and the communication strategy across the varied list of stakeholders would not have been possible without project management. We have been able to bring our best practices to life because of strong project management practices.”