Why Can’t Everyone be like Ford?

From a marketer’s standpoint, the resurgence of the Ford brand is a monumental success. It wasn’t but a few decades ago when Ford was viewed just like the other big three auto manufacturers. Big, slow, unresponsive and full of themselves… classic old Detroit syndrome.

But today, the Ford brand is at the pinnacle of the marketplace. Sales are up 43% year over year, and up 22% over the prior month. They sold more vehicles in February than GM. The last time this happened was in 1930. And they don’t have to pay Uncle Sam’s piggy bank one penny.

What interests me is the role “brand” played in Ford’s “continuing its smooth and steady rise” to quote Jim Hamel of Fordreports.com. Clearly the leadership has made many strategic, structural and business changes to meet the challenging times we live in. But brand has played an important part of this well-earned success, and there are some lessons for others to follow.

First, since the return to Henry Fords vision, quality has been a driver of many aspects of Ford’s business. To quote Henry…“Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.” Ever since the Japanese re-defined quality in the 1960’s and completely reversed a country’s image of producing copycat products, Ford took notice and marched behind the Quality is Job #1 mantra. Ford returned to its roots.

Second, Ford has been essentially unwavering about the importance of quality. They have relentlessly followed a philosophy as opposed to competitors who espoused quality, but didn’t have it embedded into the fabric of the company. This consistency is what has slowly but surely propelled them to where they are today. This is the true mark of brand consistency.

Third, the brand’s belief in quality has encouraged an environment of exciting new products such as the Escape, the new Focus, the F-150 and the upcoming new Ford Fiesta, and has filled a pipeline with more to come. It’s like being on a winning team and believing you can win every game. You just seem to play better. Ford isn’t just doing it, they are believing it. Momentum breeds momentum.

Not-withstanding the difficulties that GM and Chrysler have faced, we have no sense of what they stand for beyond being manufacturers. Thus, their corporate names do not signal anything meaningful to consumers. Keith Naughton, an editor for Bloomberg, observed that Cadillac now uses an email signature that is Cadillac.com, no longer gm.com. GM never developed any consumer relevant brand value into their corporate name that could be leveraged by each of their car divisions. Thus, the remaining divisions (Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC) are running for cover to build their own brands separate from the parent. While originally a strategic decision dating back for decades, the degree of separation is palpable. The venerable GM brands have to make it on their own, without any brand equity shared from the parent.

On the other hand, Ford products are proud to communicate the association of the parent brand.

Here are three emblems. Bet you have very different reactions about what they bring to the party.

It takes great leaders to set a vision and stay on course through thick and thin. Not always easy. But when the dust settles, the tortoise usually wins. Yeah to Ford for showing us it can be done in the most difficult of times.