Who are you guys?

2011 ford fiesta secret test menu

Scott Monty, global digital and multimedia communications manager

Ford is routing many of its marketing efforts for the 2012 Focus to FacebookFordFocus, including the application process for this month’s Ford Focus Global Test Drive.

Flickr users were already sharing photos of the 2012 Focus at presstime.

No one is forcing Scott Monty to star in a YouTube video with a bespectacled, suit-wearing blowup doll as he explains the application process for the latest consumer competition created by Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford Motor Company. The head of social media for the once staid legacy brand—"Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants, so long as it is black," founder Henry Ford once said—is clearly doing so to help Ford navigate a new marketing path.

Monty, whose formal title according to his LinkedIn profile is "global digital and multimedia communications manager," became part of Ford's forward-looking approach to marketing in July 2008. The American automaker's great epiphany had already occurred a few months before, when its leadership noticed "digital communications and digital marketing were absolutely something that were going to be an important part of the future," Monty says. Customers were communicating digitally and it was time to change in accordance with them, not years later.

Since then, Monty says Ford has integrated social media into its marketing mix through a hub-and-spoke model, wiping out silos as it goes. That means employees throughout the company can be part of the process by becoming informed about the message, then going back out to their specialty areas and communicating with consumers in their own voices. So Ford's marketing message, for instance, stays consistent in free social networking venues, in paid digital efforts and in other forms of public communication. Then consumers see the same Ford in everything from Facebook pages to ads, from Twitter profiles to promoted tweets and trends, and from banner ads to rich media.

Hence, there's the YouTube video of Monty and his suited co-anchor and plastic doppelgänger. The message they convey reinforces Ford's message about the new Focus—that it represents "the first in a wave of global cars, where we'll have about 80 percent commonality, in terms of parts and platforms and everything, across the globe." Viewers are told how to submit a video by Dec. 31, 2010, to FacebookFordFocus for a chance to be chosen as one of the 100 social media influencers who will test drive the car this month at the Ford Focus Global Test Drive near Madrid, Spain.

While the Focus campaign is ongoing (the U.S. arm being a cross-country team competition reality show called "Focus Rally: America" that's streaming on Hulu this month) Monty says social media has already proven itself to Ford.

The Fiesta Movement that started in April 2009 "was entirely driven by social media" without any traditional media set against it, and, Monty says, by April 2010 the conversion rate from reservations to orders was 10 times higher than this process for any other vehicle. (Ford began accepting reservations for Fiestas on Dec. 1, 2009.)

These numbers and the general consumer enthusiasm related to Ford's social media efforts keep reaffirming the company's belief in the channel.

"I think it's made us think about how and where and when we spend our media dollars," Monty says. "In other words, rather than making our media work as hard as we used to by concentrating it around a three-month window when a vehicle launched, we're now spreading it out over the course of a year. Because we realize there's this 'always on' mentality and we need to be there when the customer is ready for us, not when we're ready to make a media spend.

" … The car-buying cycle is pretty long," he continues, "and consumers do their research way in advance. If we wait until they're ready to purchase to do our media spending, then it may already be too late. So I think what we've seen with social media is that it's made our advertising and marketing dollars work less strenuously. And it's also made us think about how we integrate marketing and communications together. for maximum impact."

Ford Gets Social
There wasn't always a Scott Monty doll. Developing an online sense of humor and consumer insight was at least five years in the making for Ford, Monty says. And it was only about two years ago that the car maker started taking social media seriously.

"Up until then, we were kind of doing social media as a hobby," Monty says. "We were experimenting here and there, and we had social media press releases and YouTube channels and lots of different things. But there was nothing really tying it all together, and nothing that made it apparent to the organization that this was an important part of our communications and marketing channels."

The company now even uses the channel to talk with consumers during its worst times.

"I think social media is now more important than ever when it comes to crisis communications," Monty says. "The news cycles, pretty much, no longer exist. Everything's real time. And we absolutely need to be sure that we're there and ready and able to let people know what we're doing throughout the process."

Focusing on Social Media and Exploring Relationships
While any organization can find it challenging to implement new practices, doing so at an entity the size of Ford is difficult for even those outside of it to fathom. Yet, Monty says, social media's already integrated into the machinery. So much so that the company mantra, "One Ford, All Around the World," is as much about its social media efforts as its plans to sell nearly identical vehicles globally, right down to common parts.

"Our teams are aligned from the top on down," Monty says. "Every two weeks, our executive leadership team participates in what our CEO [Alan Mulally] calls a BPR, a business plan review. And every single direct report that he has, every functional leader, every regional executive, shows up to that meeting and has 10 minutes to present all of the relevant things that are going on within their division. So within two [to] 2.5 hours, you get a really good thumbnail of everything that's going on at Ford Motor Company on any given week. And, as part of that process, we know that we'll be planning for the reveal of the Explorer [for instance]. And marketing would be there and communications would be there and product development would be there.

"So we all knew that we had to align on the process and on the messaging," he continues. "And it's pretty easy for everybody to walk away from that meeting and go and do their own things. But, again, with our One Ford vision, we all know that it's so important to have transparency in our processes and to be working together. In terms of ensuring that everybody is on the same page, that's essential; especially to social media. Because we find that it's so much more effective when we can get involved early on and be part of the planning and strategy phase, rather than to be added on at the end of the process as kind of a rubber stamp and to fit into whatever has already been predetermined."

At that point, Ford trusts that the message will be communicated accurately and trusts its representatives to do so, Monty says. No one is standing over anyone's shoulder or playing "Big Brother," he says. And very few Ford employees' only job function is social media.

That's how, for instance, Jay Ward became the social media face of the Ford Explorer, Monty says. Those chatting with Ward, Ford's crossover and SUV communications manager, on Twitter or FacebookFordExplorer simply talk to "Jay."

"He was the guy who knew the most about the topic and he was the one who was the most authentic" and consumers sensed that, Monty says. "So, obviously, Jay was entrusted with all of our messages around the Explorer."

In addition to the top down communication, social media works on a hub-and-spoke model, according to Monty. After coming together from across the organization to meet, Ford executives go back into their specific areas of practice to apply their knowledge and communicate in social media.

At the moment, those like Ward, with the aptitude for the channel and the appropriate knowledge of the product and the message, seem to be taking on extra duties on their own, Monty says. Every bit of extra horsepower helps, and the Wards of Ford are viewed as assets in the overall strategy, rather than disruptions to the well-laid social media marketing plans for each model.

At the same time, Monty says the channel's strategy needs his ongoing attention.

"It's still something that's evolving," Monty explains. "Social media really doesn't live in any one unit. Communications has a piece of it, marketing has a piece of it; those are the two major players. And we've found that, as we continue to work together as One Ford. it's so important for us to be coordinating between communications and marketing. Two organizations that had traditionally been very siloed are now very much aligned: in our thinking, in our planning and in our execution.

"So what you're going to see, then, is a consistency across all of our channels, in terms of not only what we're saying, but how we're talking to and how we're talking with people, and how we're listening and trying to take what's being said and feed it into the system to acknowledge and, in some cases, to start to effect change within the organization—whether it's processes or products or service or what have you," he continues. "The final thing I'd say about that is that we've discovered along the way—as we've partnered between communications and marketing—that it's essential to understand the interrelation between earned, owned and paid media, and how we get those three areas to work together, rather than working separately and not being as effective."

Like a Well-Oiled Machine
The auto industry may not ramp up its spending on social media advertising and promotions nearly as much as the rest of those edging into the space, but the industry's $1.2 billion spent in 2010 and the $4.61 billion it's projected to spend in 2015 show that Ford will soon have a lot of company, according to figures from Williamsburg, Va.-based research and consulting firm Borrell Associates.

But Ford already knows that it's not just one part or tool, but a well-oiled machine with all the parts working together, that makes the company successful.

Ahead of the curve in 2008 by acknowledging social media's importance, Monty says Ford is now working to fine-tune the relationship between earned, owned and paid media. (That is, tying together efforts in earned media, such as @FordFocus ; owned media, like FordFocus ; and paid media, including display ads on publisher sites.)

The elements all worked well together for the 2011 Ford Explorer "reveal" on July 26, 2010, he says. Instead of announcing the model at an auto show, Monty says Ford showed the vehicle to the public on FacebookFordExplorer .

"In order to capture attention there, we had to first of all get fans to the page," Monty says. "So we did a lot of organic seeding of content and teaser images and asking fans questions, as well as a strategic ad buy within Facebook. And then we absolutely wanted to make sure that all the earned media that was coming out the day of the reveal was concurrent with what we were offering up on the page. And that was supported by strategic home-page takeovers and banner ads that actually included a 'like' button for Facebook. So it allowed someone to go and 'like' the Ford Explorer page directly from an ad."

When Ford reveals a new model, the most consumers can do is build and price one for themselves. At that point, purchase is not yet an option. So, Monty says, the measurement Ford has from this reveal proving social media's worth is: Those who traveled from an ad to FacebookFordExplorer. then to FordVehiclesto build and price, had a 1.5 times higher completion rate than those who went straight from an ad to FordVehicles.com.

The Fiesta Movement. however, does show sales figures resulting from just social media efforts. Aside from the 7 million video impressions on YouTube, 750,000 photo impressions and more than 40 million Twitter impressions, Monty says more than 130,000 consumers registered at FiestaMovementto receive more information about the vehicle when it came on the market. About 82 percent of those registered hadn't owned a Ford before. And for the ultimate metric, conversions, Monty says 10 times more reservations become orders than did so for any other Ford vehicle.

That's how paying attention to the customer—or social networking—has become an ingrained practice for the auto maker with a founder once quoted as saying, if he'd listened to the public, he'd have created a faster horse.