An interview with John Felice, General Manager Ford Lincoln Marketing
By Juan Tornoe
Through my good friend Alvaro Cabal, I had the opportunity to connect with John Felice last week. As mentioned above, John is the man at the wheel – pun intended – of all marketing efforts for Ford. He was kind enough to share with me many interesting insights on what’s going on in the industry, and specifically at Ford in regards to the Hispanic consumer and his company’s efforts to establish a strong relationship with Latinos.
Juan Tornoe: Over the last year auto sales volume growth among Hispanics has over indexed in comparison to the General Market. What has Ford specifically experienced regarding Latino auto purchases?
John Felice: According to the data we have through June 2011, the Hispanic auto market is growing and recovering faster than its general market counterpart. Specifically, the Hispanic market has increased 23.8% and the general market has increased 17.5%
Year over year Ford’s Hispanic car mix has increased +6.0 ppts, 32% to 38%. Hispanics are back buying vehicles and looking for full efficient small cars with great design and features that complement their lifestyle. Ford Focus and Ford Fiesta are hitting that sweet spot.
If I was to pick a strategic priority for us, the one thing we could do better and put more emphasis on is growing our relationship and customer base with the Hispanic consumer.
It is time to raise awareness about the importance of the Hispanic consumer, because now Ford has a wider vehicle portfolio, beyond the trucks and crossovers; now we are right in the process of launching world-class small cars and crossovers. That gives us a great opportunity to have the right products at the right time for the Hispanic consumer.
Interestingly enough, each year we get our dealers together from around the country, and next week they are going to be here in Dearborn for our annual dealer meeting, and as the marketing guy, one of the few things I am talking about is the importance of the Hispanic market for them and their business. That’s how important it is to us.
JT: Could you share with us the themes that you will be covering during that meeting?
JF: We want to make sure that all the dealers are aware of the growth and importance of the Hispanic market, so we will be sharing some of the demographic trends, some of the industry trends – which I just mentioned. Also, we’ll share some hopefully eye-opening statistics around recent Census data showing the distribution of the Hispanic market; because people usually think of California, Texas and Florida, buy you look at the growth and it is everywhere in the U.S.! It’s not just a regional opportunity. Then we will be sharing them some of the marketing platforms that we have to improve our marketing to Hispanics. Things like increasing efforts in our Tier 2 (our Dealer Association), that is, working with our dealers collectively in our advertising to dedicate more resources to the Hispanic Consumer. We will also talk about some of our other very successful platforms, like Drive One 4UR School, which is a very successful community base program that we’ve had for many years, where the local dealer partners with the school and they set up a test drive event at the school property, and for every test drive there is a donation made to the school. Then the dealer gets to go to the school to support one of their sports teams or a building project, presenting them with a check for $4 or $5 thousand. It is a great win-win program because we get people exposed to our products and we get to give back to the local community. This year we have done these specifically targeting areas with high-density Hispanic populations, having all the language and making sure we have bilingual staff present. We are going to be expanding this effort going forward. Then we will talk specifically about them, about their staffing in their dealerships; do the local dealership’s sales and service teams reflect the community.
JT: I understand that not only Latino auto purchases are increasing, but also there is a shift in the types of vehicles they are buying… Tell me what has Ford seen on this regard.
JF: A couple things we are seeing is a continued shift in segment preference, obviously Trucks and SUV’s have always been an important segment for the Hispanic market, but we are seeing more and more buyers – and this have been a trend over the last 10 years – shifting to smaller cars. That may be driven a lot by fuel efficiency or the makeup of the industry, but it is one of the trends we are seeing, especially towards the C Segment (like the Ford Focus or the Honda Civic) or the CD segment (like the Ford Fusion or the Toyota Camry), small and mid-sized cars.
JT: What are the main reasons Hispanics are migrating towards small cars, as you mentioned earlier?
JF: We have seen the same trend in the general market; in recent times fuel efficiency is so much more important, as gas prices have risen from $2 per gallon to $3 or $4 per gallon. The economic elements of that have given consumers the motivation to think about other alternatives. Do they really need the capability of a big SUV or can they have a car instead? The other systemic issue in the industry is that traditionally in the U.S., small cars have been “cheap and cheerful”, haven’t been with the latest technologies and features and all the things that consumers – both Hispanic and general market – want in a vehicle. This has quickly changed. For example, the new Ford Focus has all the latest technologies, has best in class fuel economy, the MyFord Touch and SYNC Technologies, Active Park Assist where you can literally take your hands off the wheel and the vehicle will parallel park itself, just by using the gas and break pedals. That is technology that you would only find in luxury cars before!
So again, the two big trends or key drivers would be the strength of the product offering in smaller vehicles and fuel efficiency.
We feel we are in a very good position to be in the right place at the right time with a product portfolio for the Hispanic consumer.
JT: What has Ford specifically done through their marketing efforts to connect with the Latino consumer?
JF: Part of it is having a dedicated Latino agency – Zubi Advertising – that works with us to be relevant to the Hispanic consumer, so we try to tailor our marketing messages specifically. It is a very important part of our marketing strategy to make sure that we are relevant and bilingual in our marketing communications. Also, we are very specific in tailoring our creative and other marketing assets to resonate with the Latino consumer; we get a lot of help from Zubi on that and that won’t change.
But, as I mentioned before, something that will be a specific point of discussion during our dealer meeting, is our engagement with our retailers and getting them more active. I believe that is it very important to us to reach the Latino consumer at the community level. This is done through people and marketing platforms. If you take a very successful platform, like Drive One 4UR School and make it relevant, through having the right language capabilities and everything else, it can really help you connect with the Latino community. So we are evaluating our internal programs to do that.
We have three forms of auto advertising here in the U.S. We have Tier 1 or The Factory – my advertising, Tier 2 or dealer associations, and then we have Tier 3, which is your local dealer advertising. We have always had a Hispanic effort at the Tier 1 level; we are greatly expanding our Tier 2 advertising through various initiatives in Latino advertising; and the next step is to work with our retailers to not only advertise but to work to better meld into the fabric of the Latino community. Those are some of the things that we will be talking about in the meeting next week.
JT: Are there any media outlets that have you notice working better for Ford in reaching out to Latinos?
JF: We use several of the traditional media outlets – TV, radio & print – that have been utilized to reach out to Hispanics, but we have also found success away from traditional media in more experiential events where you interact with the Latino community vs. just trying to run advertising on various dedicated media.
Digital has also been a very successful media; with penetration in social media outlets such as twitter and facebook. We just opened our new facebook “Ford en Español” page; it is in a soft launch, so it is not officially out there, but it is coming up. Also, through Zubi, our Hispanic marketing team, we are working online with AOL, Univision, and Terra; the have been really successful platforms for us. We launched a very successful program for the Ford Fiesta called, “Ready pa’ tu Mundo” (ready for your world), which included a feature called a Slider, where you go from full Spanish, into Spanglish, or full English.
JT: Anything else you would like to ad?
JF: I want to emphasize my personal passion to raise our awareness and market presence with the Hispanic Consumer. It is to me a tremendous strategic opportunity to Ford Motor Company; we have the right products at the right time.
Note: Interview conducted on September 23, 2011