in 1995, Ford India is a wholly owned subsidiary of Ford Motor Company, a
global automotive industry leader. The Indian arm of the Detroit auto giant
manufactures and distributes automobiles and engines made at its modern
integrated manufacturing facilities at Maraimalai Nagar, near Chennai. The
company’s models current include the Figo, Ford Classic, Endeavour and the
all-New global Fiesta. And all-new
EcoSport compact SUV is also on the anvil. It is currently amongst the top 6
car makers in India.
You have been with Ford for
quite some time. How have things shaped up for you, especially after moving on
from WNS and Accenture where you worked earlier?
I think in each of the organisations where I had worked
added tremendous value to my career development. Both WNS and Accenture have
given different forms of exposure to me. Accenture was like a great assignment
where I got the chance to build the brand ground-up. As we all know, Accenture
plc is present in management consulting, technology services and outsourcing.
When I had joined, this firm just began its business in India. The intent was
not only to garner new clients for the consulting business in India, but also
build a strong recruitment base for ‘Accenture’. This is because the intent was
to grow the resource base in India at a very rapid pace. So the dual challenges
of building and attracting clients were very exciting. With my team, we ensured
that the duality of the objectives was met by using multiple methods that
included implementing a different set of marketing initiatives. What drew me to
Ford India after WNS were a couple of factors. Firstly, it was a golden
opportunity to work with a 100-year old brand which is so seeped into the
legacy and culture (automobile) in America. Secondly, this ‘Ford’ brand is
something which is synonymous with a category called ‘automobiles’ across the
world. For being able to contribute to
building that brand in India was a huge draw for me. Another factor that turned
the wheel for me was that I was overwhelmed by the warmth of the top management
of Ford India. When I met Nigel Wark (the ex ED of Ford India who has now moved
to Shanghai) and Michael Boneham (MD, Ford India) in 2010, their open culture
and the emphasis on the transparent and honest discussions fascinated me
immensely. Personally for me, the ability to engage with people was a big plus
for me. The culture of an organisation becomes a key aspect for me in choosing
to be a part of it. Ford’s culture gels
with my personality.
The Indian automotive industry
has been adversely impacted due to rising fuel prices, high interest rates and
adverse economic conditions. Most of the companies have taken a cautious
approach. So does that mean the company will go slowly on its advertising
Not really. I think Ford is firing on all cylinders in
India. We do understand that there are short-term headwinds. But we are
extremely confident and bullish on the medium and long-term opportunities. We
still believe that by 2015-16 the Indian car industry will hit a 5-million mark
and by 2020 the size will be about 9 million units. What excites us immensely
is the fact that the car penetration in India is very minuscule at 24 per 1,000
people unlike 75 in China and 550 in Brazil. It just tells you that the opportunities
to tap this market (India) are immense. And that is what is driving us to bring
high-quality, fuel-efficient and safe cars that customers want and value. As
far as our advertisement plans are concerned, we have not curtailed any of our
spends. It’s only that we have been judicious on our activities because we want
to be known for the lean, mean and highly-efficient marketing function that we
want to run. And that is reflected in everything that we do right from the
organisational structure to way we spend monies.
Ford came in India with a
tagline of ‘Feel the Difference’. But now it looks like, it is giving a new
perception to its products and making them much better and enhanced. So will the new tagline of Ford India ‘Go Further’
expected to give the brand a push in the global car bazaar? And do you hope the
tagline change will help the car maker in gaining more revenue in a short span
The brand promise of ‘Go Further’ is something we are
very excited about. We spend a lot of time harnessing as to what differentiates
us from our competitors in the marketplace. And that is what a brand promise is
supposed to do. We spoke to our employees, dealers around the world including
India, and other stakeholders including vendors. So the ‘Go Further’ premise is
essentially based on the 1925 advertisement Henry Ford came out with in the
Saturday Evening Post (a bimonthly America magazine). The taglines stated
‘Opening the highways to all mankind’. That advertisement has been the driving
force for Ford for a very long time. Even today, when you go to Allan Mulally’s
(President and CEO of Ford Motor Company) office at Dearborn, Michigan, you
will find the aforementioned advert on the wall. The ad is present there
because that is what has shaped our vision for Ford Motor Company. One of the
tenets in the ad is the strong human focus that Ford has. They are a lot
warmer. Even if you look at the ads today, there is a lot of sense of warmth in
them. So the ‘Go Further’ promise is essentially based on 3 key pillars i.e.
Attainability, People Serving People, and Ingenuity.
we launched the Ford Figo with Bluetooth features, we democratised technology
in the entry-level car segment. And the
Bluetooth-enabled Figo accounts for nearly 70pc of its sales. In the all-new
Fiesta’s case we packed it with first-in segment features like Cruise Control,
Electric Power Assist Steering (EPAS), Hill Grade Assist, etc. So I am making
sure that whatever I bring into the product is something which is within reach
of the customer. Second key pillar states that there is a lot of bonhomie
amongst Ford and its people. The third pillar is also important which it
involves clever and smart things for the consumers. So the intent of the ‘Go
Further’ promise is to differentiate us from our peers. This is because we will
go further for our customers so that they can go further.
Talking about the all-new
Fiesta, are you happy with the way it has been accepted in the market?
I think the all-new Fiesta has come true to what we have
set out for the product to do. It was a product which was supposed to elevate
the ‘Ford’ brand in India. Given the features that we have brought into this
product like the Kinetic design styling and the kind of smart, urban &
tech-savvy consumers it is reaching out to, that is the audience which will be
the future for urban mobility in India. And in this segment, the brand
perception for Ford has started to move. The first big move was the Figo; the
second one is the Fiesta. So we are pretty happy with the response to the new
Do you see any change in
buying patterns amongst car buyers in India? Besides pricing, what are the
other factors that play an important role in the purchase process? And is the
youth is certainly a big influencer of purchasing your products?
If you look at today’s consumer, he is looking for
value-for-money features. The other thing the people have started doing is that
they have recalibrated their perception of what ‘value’ stands for. For a
generation back, ‘value’ meant only less cost of the product.. But today, the
value perceptions are very different. So
as marketers we have realised that ‘value’ perception is changing and we need
to craft it accordingly. The buyers in today’s generation want to buy an
automatic transmission variant. The offtake of automatic transmission variant
is much higher. People who are looking for convenience are ready to pay for the
extra amount (as compared to manual transmission variants). They are also
looking for more smart features in their cars. Ford will offer many segment
first features on the EcoSport including button start-stop, SYNC technology and
even an option for automatic transmission. So by communicating the value
perception, the consumers are willing to walk into your showrooms and pay for
it. The second part of your question was pertaining to the changing
demographics. I think India is an interesting place because the average median
age is about 26 years. And it is not likely to change for the times to come. So
the consumers are as young as ever. A 40-year old customer who is willing to
buy our products would be having the smarts of a 26-year old person. He will be
as inquisitive, demanding, rational and as impulsive as a 26-year old buyer. So
as a mindset, the consumers are extremely young-at-heart in India. I think the
one big demographic shift that we have discerned is the increasing number of
female buyers. We are going to capitalise on the greater dispensation of women
buying the cars now. Even if you look at the Figo segment (B+) today, studies
have shown that the number of women buyers has been 5pc out of the total sales.
But for our product i.e. Figo, it is 10pc of the total sales.
Ford India had earlier
organised quite a few drive programmes like Ford Figo Bharat Yatra, Great Ford Endeavour
Drive, etc. What has been the response to these programmes? How has it
benefitted the company?
The response has been fantastic. The one standout aspect
of Ford vehicles is way the vehicle drives. So we spend a lot of time, energy
and effort in ensuring that we engineer the cars so that the drive dynamics of
the vehicle is addictive. It is something that is not replicable. One of the
ways to make sure that people experience your vehicle through the drive
programmes that you have just mentioned. For a ‘Great Ford Endeavour Drive’,
people get a chance to come in. And we lay a true-blue 4X4 track and encourage
people to drive on it to have a first-hand experience of our vehicles. And I
have seen the expression of our customers when they come out of such drives.
And they express the wow factor that our products deliver. We have done
experiential programmes where we have pitted our cars against our competitors.
And I have heard from our participations that they find the Ford vehicle
shockingly brilliant. As I just said, the driving dynamics is addictive for
Could you talk a little bit
about the digital campaigns? And how important is such non-traditional
marketing for Ford? You had also spoken about a social media initiative based
on the philosophy of ‘Real People, Real experiences’. Could you shed some light
For us, we don’t call it a non-traditional medium. This
is because everything is a medium to reach out to our consumers. A couple of
years back, we have realised the potential of digital marketing and we have to
invest higher in such mediums. Our spends on new-age mediums have gone up from
as low as 4-6pc to as high as 10-15pc of our total advertisement budget. In
some cases, the percentage goes high at 20pc.
By digital, we not only mean internet ads but also promotions on
mobiles. In fact, mobile marketing is where the future is. Amongst our
competitors, we probably are overindexed on our spends on digital marketing. It
is genuinely believed that it’s a far more efficient and measurable medium to
be able to put our monies behind. Decisions like that have enabled us to make
sure that what we build in India is the attribute of a lean, mean and
highly-efficient marketing function. Today when I study the consumers, I know
that the influence of the social media and internet is much higher than it is
for television, radio, or print. The degree of influence is much higher for
these mediums than the non-digital ones. Industry Data suggests that 75pc of
the people will be influenced by what they read on social media. But what they
watch on TV, the influence will be only 50pc. With the advent of what we call
second screen. When you watch TV today, you will play with your mobile phones.
And there would 1 in 4 people in India today who are watching two screens at
the same time. And 1 in 4 people google their car buying requirements. So it
just tells you that the future would be in the digital medium and we want to be
the pioneers in that space.
What is the key target
audience of the new EcoSport that you are planning to launch? And what would be
its USP? Are you expecting your sales
from tier-I cities for this model? Or will you enhance your focus on tier-II
and tier-III cities?
EcoSport would be an absolute gamechanger for Ford India.
The compact SUV will be a product that is going to appeal to a certain segment
of the audience who are looking for urban exploration. A large part of the
Indian community is looking for going out for exploring the urban landscapes of
the country. Today they don’t have such soft-roaders which cater to such needs.
They look for something which has a styling of an SUV, looks extremely
progressive and futuristic, has the ground clearance to be able to navigate
through the Indian roads, tech-laden features etc. So when we bring Sync-in
which is going to respond to your voice, do a whole bunch of calculations, etc,
a lot of youngsters will be appealed by it.
More than that, it will be equipped with a 1.0 litre extremely fuel-efficient
and environment friendly EcoBoost petrol engine. It will give you power (at
120PS), performance and best-in-class mileage. Coming to the second part of
your question, we believe that we need to have a footprint that is well beyond
tier-I cities. If you look at our distribution network today, we have been
growing our network faster in tier-II and tier-III cities. And what we are seeing that our marketshares
in tier-II and tier-III cities are far greater than our competitors. So the
appeal for EcoSport would be across the country.
The Ford brand has had an
association with Abhishek Bachchan for the earlier Fiesta (now Fiesta Class)?
Has this benefitted the brand in terms of sales? If yes, will you be roping in
more such ambassadors?
I think the biggest ambassadors are our customers. That’s
why we came up with a social media strategy called ‘Real People Real
Experiences’. We believe that if you give people the chance to experience the
product, you let them express it in their own words. That is going to resonate
far more than what a brand ambassador or a celebrity is going to endorse. So
people would be able to relate what a friendly neighbour of mine has said about
the vehicle more than he will be able to find credibility in what a superstar
is telling about the particular product. Moreover, research has proved the fact
that word-of-mouth is the single largest source of influence for an automobile
purchase. And to capitalise on that word-of-mouth, you need people sharing
their real experiences so that the credibility quotient of that is much higher
than any manufacturer doing any other forms of advertising.
Could you please talk about
your marketing strategy and outlook for 2012 and for the next few years?
Ford’s vision is very clear. We want to follow the ‘One
Ford’, ‘One Team’ and ‘One Plan’. That doesn’t change. We are going to bring
global, high-quality, safe and smart products to India. And we are going to
make sure these are going to be products that the consumers are going to value
and want. That is really the centrestage of everything that we do in India.
Talking about the marketing strategies, it will be centred around delivering
consumer experiences which truly differentiate the Ford brand from its peers.
Secondly, we want to build a marketing organisation that is something truly
aspirational for people outside of the category. This is because we believe
there is a lot to learn from categories outside of automobile industry. And
finally, we are going to build what I call as ‘Lean & Extremely Efficient
Marketing Organisation’ that is going to be the cornerstone for not just India
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