At RampUp in New York, we sat down with Jeff Reid, Truck and Connected Vehicle Marketing Communications Manager, Ford, to talk about the personalized customer experiences possible with cars today. Listen to the audio file here or read the interview below:
RampUp: Tell us a little bit more about what you do at Ford and what led you to this marketing role.
Jeff: I’m the Marketing Communications Manager for Truck and Connected Vehicle Marketing. Work[ing] with our agency partners, we create content that can engage our truck customers [and] get them to start moving down the funnel from awareness to purchase.
Additionally, I work on getting the story out about Ford’s Connected Vehicle products like SYNC 3 and the benefits that it can provide to a consumer.
What led me to this role is kind of a circuitous route. After undergrad, I was in engineering, worked at a couple roles at AT&T leading a call center, worked in marketing and with high-speed internet when it first came out, selling to big corporations like Ford.
Then, I went to business school for marketing at Wharton, and then went to Toyota where I got into marketing and automotive. I loved the automotive industry, worked at our headquarters office, worked on the new generation Tundra, and also went out in the field to work for Lexus. My Lexus Luxury experience was what drove Ford to hire me to help reinvigorate the Lincoln brand.
So, it led me to the launch of one of our new vehicles, the Lincoln MKC. Then, I worked on a future vehicle, the EcoSport, which will be out in about a year, and then moved into marketing communications where I’m working closely with the agency managing the creation of great content.
RampUp: I think what’s interesting about the automotive space in general, which you alluded to on your panel, was that people are not looking to buy a car every year. They may buy a car every five years, every ten years, just whatever their preferences are. So, in that sense, you have a wide variety of segmented audiences. I personally don’t even use an app for my car. I’m not even sure VW has an app for my specific model of Golf.
When you’re thinking about these connected vehicle experiences and what modern automakers offer today, and then you also have the people who have been driving the same car for ten years and have not been shopping for a car in a while, how do you bridge the gap and get them up to speed on the changes that have happened?
The key thing is to continue to build a relationship with the consumer and continue to add value throughout their ownership cycle.
Jeff: We can let people know about some of the things that we do for our vehicles. One great storyline that we’ve had over the last few years is working with SYNC 3. One of the great things about it is SYNC 3 is that it’s updatable. About nine months ago, we came out with an update that allows you to get Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
So, you bought the car a while ago, but we keep on updating. As we update new versions of SYNC 3, that allows you to have even better functionality. For example, a recent update allows you to get Amazon Alexa inside your vehicle. You can even tell Amazon Alexa to turn on the porch light at your house.
In addition, when we look at older vehicles, maybe if you have a six- to seven-year-old car, what we can do now is sell you a piece of equipment that will make your car a connected vehicle.
Now, of course, we forgive you for driving a VW, but if you had a Ford, we can sell you a product where you could make it a connected car so you could start your vehicle remotely. You could do remote start on your vehicle, and that’s great if you live in a cold climate. When it’s cold outside, you can start your vehicle from a mile away, and it will be nice and warm and cozy when you get in.
RampUp: I feel like the connected vehicle is a huge game-changer for the automotive industry. When people used to buy a car, they’d do so because they needed a larger vehicle because their family was growing, or perhaps they moved to a new environment that required four-wheel drive. So, there’s less of these tent-pole personal life events that cause you to buy a new car because we’re getting these software updates and the functionality of the connected vehicle is totally different.
Jeff: Yes, and the key thing is to continue to build a relationship with the consumer and continue to add value throughout their ownership cycle. So, drivers buy the vehicle, you service it, and for connected vehicles, you can do things like update how the console interacts with your phone.
So, that’s the way I think the best automakers are doing it. It’s really finding a way to enhance the experience continuously. That’s why our CEO has made it so almost all of our vehicles that will be coming out soon will be connected, meaning they’ll have an embedded modem so you can do over-the-air updates to your software.
RampUp: Right. That being said, automakers like Ford are becoming much more ingrained with other advertisers and brands because they’re able to share their content over your systems as well as part of the in-car experience.
Can you talk about how advertising has now become part of the driver and passenger experience?
Jeff: Well, that’s still being looked at. One of the things you have to be careful of, especially in the automotive industry, is you can’t have things that will distract somebody from the road unless you’re driving an autonomous vehicle. So you have to be very careful on whether you’re putting ads anywhere in the customer experience inside the vehicle.
That being said, we work very closely with partners like Spotify, Pandora, and iHeartRadio to bring a great experience within the vehicle. So, if you’re listening to a Pandora station on your SYNC app link, you might hear an ad. There’s advertising ingrained a little bit, but we have to make sure that we continue to keep the vehicle safe.
RampUp: Can you talk a little bit more about the analytics programs you use or the different datasets you buy that help Ford really drill down on that point of, “we’re so confident that this is what our customer wants that we’ll build our next truck line or our next car line based on these truths?”
Jeff: Yes, there’s third-party data within our industry. For instance, with the New Vehicle Customer Survey, you learn which vehicles people are trading in. You can also learn what their top purchase reasons are.
An additional piece of it beyond that quantitative data is looking at the qualitative data. We speak to our customers who might be buying a pickup truck in Texas for family getaways, and also those in the lumber or ranching industry, just as an example. We ask them, what are you using the truck for? How are you using it?
Based on the answers to these questions, we realized that details as minute as the thickness in the bed of our pickup truck matter. That’s something you only learn by really talking to and having a relationship with your customer.
RampUp: Right. So, many of the things we’ve been talking about today in terms of using machine learning or AI, that’s certainly, from your perspective, not going to supplant just going directly and talking to somebody.
Jeff: Yes, I mean, I think artificial intelligence has a definite place in how you position your marketing. Like they were saying on the panel, it can enhance what you do, but really nothing can replace talking to your customer and knowing your customer.
RampUp: You mentioned before you went from AT&T to business school, and then you went to Toyota from there and fell in love with the automotive industry. So, what about cars excited you then, and what is driving you forward at Ford now in terms of thinking about the marketing possibilities and also the connected vehicle and autonomous driving?
Jeff: One of the things that really drove me to get into automotive is really the amount of time people spend making a purchase decision. It’s the second biggest purchase that someone makes in their life, typically. It’s the home and then the car. You might consider yourself a VW person. Someone else might consider themself a Ford truck person or a Chevy truck person. But I think what’s really exciting now is all the technology that’s come into vehicles, whether it’s the in-car entertainment or some of the other things we’re doing with Smart Device Link.
What really excites me is all the changes and innovations in the automotive industry right now.
RampUp: Right. Sort of on that front, do you see Ford or automakers in general being able to enter different spaces like the data provider space, as an example, because of all these technological changes?
Jeff: Well, I think there are a lot of places that Ford can play. I mean, our focus is mobility, but I think being a trusted provider, there are probably a lot of different places that a mobility solutions provider can play. So, I think we’ll see as the industry evolves over the next few years. One thing we do know is that it’s one of the most rapid and fast-changing times in history of the industry. What the automotive or mobility industry looks like now will look a lot different in the future.
RampUp: Henry Ford could not have imagined building a faster horse the way we’re doing it now.
RampUp: Well, I know this is your first time at RampUp, so are there any key takeaways that you’re going to take back to Detroit with you?
Jeff: Yes, I mean one of the things was listening to some of the panels and learning about some of the different targeting technologies out there and also some of the different targeting technologies that might not be the usual Google or Facebook, some of these other networks out there that might be helpful for somebody like Ford to use.
So, it’s really helpful for me to take back knowledge like that to our immediate team.
RampUp: Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Jeff, for your time. I hope to see you at the big RampUp conference in San Francisco in March.
Jeff: Alright. Thank you.