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Ford is here to bust the 'expensive service' myth: Rahul Gautam, VP, Ford India

28-February-2018
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Ford is here to bust the 'expensive service' myth: Rahul Gautam, VP, Ford India

The US based auto manufacturer Ford has embarked on a journey to make major changes in its marketing strategy to heavily consolidate its presence in the Indian market. One of the strategies Ford is focusing on is to bear down the maintenance cost of its cars. For long, there has been a perception among people that Ford is an expensive machine to maintain.

Over the past two years, Ford has allowed non- dealer workshops to sell genuine spare parts and has increased the number of services offered to customers. In September 2017, Ford India and Mahindra & Mahindra came together to explore joint working systems and to provide solutions to the ever evolving technologies in the automobile industry.

In an interview with exchange4media, Rahul Gautam, VP, Ford India, spoke about how important is market research before rolling out any new campaign and what kind of strategy works for the brand.

Excerpts:

Major automobile players are now heading towards India. It is becoming a complex market for sale. How do you ensure a sustainable and profitable business?

India is one of the most important markets for Ford and other manufacturers. At Ford, we remain committed to building a sustainable and profitable business. In recent years, Ford has introduced new platforms, products and powertrains ranging from Figo, Aspire, Endeavour and Mustang - making our showrooms buzzing with energy. Along with right products, our strategy in India is focused on - Strong Brand, Competitive Cost and Effective Scale. Talking specifically about the Strong Brand, our focus on product-led innovation, delivering differentiated customer experience and busting the myth of COO, has continued to pay dividends. The introduction of several industry-first service initiatives like Service Price Promise and Parts Price Promise has enabled our customers to know the exact costs of routine repairs, parts and maintenance, even before they walk into a dealership. This has gone a long way in busting the myth, and position Ford cars as most affordable.

Ford keeps coming with intuitive campaigns at regular intervals whether it is "The Unskippable or "Myth conception." How important is the market research and how does Ford prepare before rolling out any new campaign?

All insights for our innovative campaign come from consumer insights. Take for an example Myth Conception. In most situations, human beings tend to blindly go by hearsay and form perceptions which may or may not be true. While Ford is known for proven safety and quality, some sections of consumers perceived that the cost of owning of a Ford vehicle to be high. However, the truth is exactly the opposite. The campaign, therefore, aimed to work on the insight to bust the myth of high "cost of service" by use of a disruptive creative hook and challenge perceptions to state facts like the annual scheduled maintenance of a Ford EcoSport in its fifth year or 50,000 Kms being as low as Rs. 3675.

People believe that Ford is one of the most expensive cars in the market and the service experience is also a concern. You called this a myth in the previous campaign. How are you breaking this myth?

As a brand, we maintain a laser-sharp focus on delivering differentiated customer experience and introduce innovative initiatives. Take a look at Service Price Promise. As a benchmark of transparency, the service price promise on Ford India website, today, allows customers to know the cost of periodic maintenance even before booking the service. Using the Cost Calculator, the customers can carry the printout of the web quote and expect complete trust and transparency in service and parts pricing. Any manufacturer, except Ford, has not done this. People today get surprised to see the cost of scheduled maintenance of an EcoSport for the first year is around Rs. 1600 including taxes. One big endorsement of our competitive cost of ownership has been the AutoCar Spare Parts Survey, the only one of its kind, which shows that a Ford is cheaper to maintain than some of the other larger brands.

What kind of marketing strategy works for Ford? Do you believe in sticking to one strategy or it's better to revamp every time?

Despite an unprecedented increase in information, finding information that's objective and fact-based has never been more difficult than it is today. At Ford, we believe in winning the customers through trust and transparency; be it product, service or marketing. Therefore, we focus on communicating transparently and in real-time while keeping it deeply rooted in consumer insights and high on memorability. Ford has always been ahead of the curve in digital marketing. From running the 'Ford Stories' campaign in early days of social media to deliver programmatic, dynamic and sequential messaging, we have always set benchmarks for others. Along the way, we have delivered some memorable work like "EcoSport UnBoxing" or "123 EcoSport Sale on Amazon." Some of the recent work that has worked very well for Ford includes a 360 digital campaign to establish the supremacy of Endeavour in its category and #SurprisinglyAffordable campaign that I mentioned, was successful in driving home the Cost of Service message.

Last year between April- October, Ford's domestic rate declined to 8 per cent. What's the strategy to beat the industry growth rate this year?

2017 saw the Indian automotive industry overcome challenges precipitated by the implementation of GST, increased inflation, after-effects of demonetization, rising crude prices and volatile regulatory environment to register growth. Despite supplier challenges and the ramp up of the new EcoSport has impacted our wholesale in the quarter you talked about, we ended the year with sustained growth with combined domestic wholesales and exports in CY 2017 at 262,784 vehicles compared to 238,098 units in CY 2016 - recording its highest production and wholesale volume ever.

You recently partnered with auto major M&M to explore joint working. How will the partnership with M&M add to Ford's profitability?

The strategic alliance between our companies allows us to leverage our mutual strengths while we work together to take advantage of the changes coming in the auto industry.

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