Global digital and multimedia communications manager, Ford Motor Co.
Scott has moved on from this role since the interview.
Ask any savvy digital marketer to name the most successful social media campaigns of all time and the Ford Fiesta Movement, which ran for six months in 2009, is sure to appear on the short list. Ford eschewed the traditional marketing blitz of a new car launch, and instead hand-picked an army of social media buffs in the United States to test-drive the little-known Ford Fiesta and film episodes of the experience for their followers on Facebook, YouTube and their blogs. Ford handed them the keys and gave them a series of tasks to perform, but the rest was up to the storytellers. Harvard Business Review said the campaign left “us distinctly wiser about marketing in the digital space.” How so? It proved that by mixing the power of word-of-mouth messaging with social media tools, big brands can raise awareness for a new product and even affect sales. The trick comes in ceding a bit of control. Before the Ford Fiesta Movement, few marketers would let the public speak on behalf of their brands or products. In that way, as Ford’s Global Head of Social Media Scott Monty explains, the Fiesta Movement was more than just a campaign. It was part of a cultural shift at the No. 2 U.S. automaker to collaborate more with the public on big ideas and drive the industry forward. With the recently re-launched Fiesta Movement, Monty and his team are now trying to measure a return on social engagement, attempting to ascribe value to each social influencer. Here, Monty explains why this effort could be a big deal for digital marketers.
How do you collaborate with all the different functions, here and abroad?
My role is within corporate communications, the nerve center of the company, if you will. But because of the company’s emphasis on social, I interact by necessity with marketing, customer service and, more so, with IT and human resources.
Collaboration starts from the top. The senior leadership team meets once a week for what we call a Business Plan Review or BPR. Over the course of two hours or so, every direct report to the COO and CEO spend about five minutes delivering a snapshot of what’s going on in their area. They rate their line items and their plans red, yellow or green to signal which areas of the business need the most attention. Anyone sitting around the table, regardless of their department, can jump in and help out if there’s a big red flag. This reporting structure – the BPR – is also replicated on the department level. I regularly convene a social and digital BPR, which involves communications and marketing. I cover with them everything from the content we’re creating to the social and mobile platforms we’re using. It’s important, I’ve found, to share content calendars so that we’re all on the same page. In this way we avoid duplication and we make better use of our assets.
You came to Ford in 2008 in the middle of the so-called Carpocalypse. What role did one of the lowest points in the industry’s history play in pushing Ford to embrace social media?
There’s nothing like a good crisis to galvanize a team. We really centered on social as a rally to the cause for the future of the company. The first big social campaign I was involved with was the Fiesta Movement in 2009. That put us on the map. The Fiesta was our first foray into building cars under the One Ford Plan where we offer the same basic car design in every market around the world. The Fiesta had already been available in Europe, and we wanted to make people in America aware it was coming here too. The Fiesta is a small, fuel-efficient car. We knew that it would primarily appeal to millennials. Looking at the statistics at the time, we asked, ‘How are millennials sharing and seeking information?’ It’s primarily via social media.
What did you do?
Before the launch of the Fiesta in the U.S. we brought over 100 cars from Europe and gave the keys to 100 digital and social influencers for six months. This wasn’t just bloggers. It was people active on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and, yes, blogs. They were asked to create a single video for us each month in which they talk about the vehicle. It was basically word-of-mouth on steroids.
What were the results?
It was extraordinarily successful. We had more than 130,000 people come to the Fiesta Movement Web site and register to say, ‘Tell me more about this vehicle when it actually gets to dealerships.’ So we created demand. Eighty-three percent of those people had never owned a Ford before in their life. And 30 percent of them were under the age of 25. No more was it a matter of Ford just talking to itself and to its own enthusiasts; it was reaching a different market segment. It was also a hit internally. You could walk into a meeting and people would say, ‘Well what’s our Fiesta Movement for this car?’ It became shorthand for, ‘What big idea are we going to come up with?’ And so when the team started thinking about what to do for the 2014 model, they said, ‘Look, the car is being refreshed. Why don’t we simply refresh the campaign?’ The core principle is still sound. This is still the audience we want to use. These are still the tools and the communication platforms that are important to them. This time it’s about putting new people in the car and letting them tell their story. Because who do people trust most – people like you, right?
Tell us about some of these people. Who are they?
A number of our Fiesta agents are either involved in or interested in the entertainment industry. You could call them YouTube stars. This too seemed to be the right demographic. The Fiesta essentially becomes a product-integration into their show.
Do YouTube stars engender trust?
They are very professional. They have to be. Their audiences can tell from a mile away when something seems inauthentic. If they feel that their favorite YouTube star is just a corporate shill, well, the authenticity is lost. Believe me, we had a lot of video entries to screen when we opened up the casting call for Fiesta agents. You can tell who the real pros are.
Ford has invested a lot in user-generated content. Do you believe it’s possible to measure a return on influencers?
We’re trying. That’s one reason why we launched Connect Ford earlier this year. We built this forum because we wanted to know how our content was resonating, and who from the blogosphere was interested in establishing a relationship with us. Connect Ford is a type of content repository for influencers. We use it to track exactly what they say about us and we rank them to determine who are the real go-getters. We often extend invitations to those people to attend Ford events. These would be people at the top of the pyramid. Just below them are our brand advocates. We have a place for them too, on Ford Social, which is Social.Ford.com. These are our advocates who will generally take some action on our behalf, whether that’s sharing something or providing feedback. They’re not only enthusiasts. Many of them own a Ford and we give them an opportunity to weigh in on future product direction, which our engineering and product strategy teams regularly look at. That’s the return we are trying to measure.
You’re collecting data on owners, what about their cars?
That’s the big question: How do you map the social data that consumers are giving us and the hard vehicle data that vehicles are throwing off? That’s where the data comes in. And that’s where we’re starting to see much more of a collaborative relationship between IT and product development and marketing. In the era of the connected car, there will be even more data. All of this will play right into the app development process for our connected services team.
You are describing two very different types of data sets. Can you combine and process the two now?
Ford has expanded greatly in the digital space, but, like a lot of companies, we have infrastructures and databases that date to the early days of the computing era. Of course they’ve been updated over the years, but they still require integration. Now more than ever we need our systems to talk to each other so that there’s a smoother exchange of data.
Do you see a future in which marketers are going to need to have a stronger proficiency in computer systems and data analytics?
I believe the communications or marketing professional who brings the most value is a person who works cross-functionally within an organization and has a strategic mindset. More than ever that means a strong grasp of data analytics – understanding the metrics, the trends and the data and turning them into insights that will determine how we can be successful. Those are the skills I’m looking for in my team.