Mind your Marketing

Brands need to be authentic and live the promise

| Updated on October 10, 2019 Published on October 10, 2019

Rahul Gautam, Ford India’s Vice President – Marketing

Ford India’s Vice President – Marketing, Rahul Gautam, speaks about how Ford approaches its varied customer base in this week’s edition of Mind your Marketing. Rahul drives the entire product strategy and brand building efforts for the company as it strengthens its product portfolio and undertakes several benchmark consumer experience initiatives. He has been involved in the development and launch of some of Ford’s most successful nameplates.

What are the biggest behavioural differences that you find when it comes to the millennials and GenZ?

One, they are very tech-oriented. They live and breathe technology because they have grown up in that environment. Two, they have a short attention span. They know a lot about a lot of things – and I have to be conscious that I don't generalise this – but the depth is sometimes lacking. Three, there is a newfound awareness, they are conscious of their opinions, they are self-aware and opinionated. They don't rely on hearsay; they like to do their own research… kind of central-learning approach. Four, they care about the world and its issues like sustainability, pollution and human rights. It is different from the previous generations, which were centered around their family or progress for self and making their mark in life.


That is a very crucial difference. My generation was scared of technology. Sometimes sceptical, too. These guys, they just jumped into technology. Naturally, how businesses approach them is going to transform. It is important that the creative message and the choice of medium are tailored to this audience.

What have you done differently to connect with these generations and sell to them effectively?

The new Ford Figo was a mobile-first launch. The launch was purely led by mobile; the creative idea was mobile-oriented. We were not looking at television for the launch, except small support through the print medium for awareness and channel outreach. We announced the launch on Tinder – that is a first. The kind of engagement metrics that we've seen is three times versus the metrics that Tinder has seen in India in terms of rights, swipes and so on. We had done similar work on the Ford EcoSport launch, like with the unboxing. So those are some of the initiatives we have had, talking to audiences in the right medium, and in a way that it is not intrusive, but more engaging.

How are technologies driving these changes and what differences have they helped you bring about?

I think, at a broader level, technology is clearly the connecting factor, and the Internet and the smartphone revolution equalise and democratise things.

Coupled with that is the emergence of ad tech, and martech. This plethora of tools and targeted audiences, profiling and programmatic go hand in hand.

Clearly, because of the availability of smart devices, and the content there, we as marketers can personalise the message. We can customise it based on the audiences and their preferences.

What is more crucial – advanced technology or better ideas?

Idea supersedes technology. The thing that is constant across the past few hundred years is we are human beings. Our emotions are very much still the same - we still feel love, sorrow and joy. So, the idea has to come from human insights. If humans are unchanged, insights have to stay true. And therefore, idea supersedes technology. But technology has a role, it allows us to be more contextual, and in the moment, when consumers are maybe engaged in some kind of activity. That way, the brand is not really out of sync, you can position your brand in the moment that the consumer is interested. It is not intrusive and is more engaging.

What makes customer experiences the differentiator of the future?

It is the human connections that matter. What is important now is that the experience need not be only human-to-human. The experience could also be virtual or digital in nature, or human to product, or, in our case, human to machine. That is a relationship and that is also a daily experience. So, it is very important that the customer experience is mapped on all the touch points, right from the first time when the consumer is made aware of your brand, to their buying and using of the product. And, finally, looping back, the complete purchase cycle.

Rahul says...
  • My top three marketing mantras

Customer experience is top for us. From a format perspective, video is clearly the key. Maybe authenticity as well.

  • One strategic change we plan to execute by 2020

One thing that we want to stay consistent is in our brand plans. Our promise of family-wali feeling, we’ll persist on that. It is hinged on two fundamental aspects - treating our customers with transparency and always being attentive to them. We will stick to our brand promise. This is what we started three years ago, and we hope to continue on that path.

  • What defines a hot brand?

“I love Ford” – if you can get consumers to say that for any brand, I think that brand can rightfully call itself a hot brand.

  • A powerful ad campaign I liked

The recent ones that stand out in my mind are more controversial. But I think in the last year, there was one from Samsonite that it did after the Kerala floods – ‘Kerala is open’.

When expectations are not met by a brand at the experiential level, what needs to be done to address the issue?

Brands need to be authentic and live the promise. I will give you an example - we were grappling with the perception of the cost of ownership in 2015. We had made a lot of progress in product, our network services and everything but the perception still lingered though the reality was different. The perception was still hurting us. So, we took a step back and said we have to recalibrate the expectations. Clearly the expectations that consumers had from Ford were very high, and rightly so. And somewhere, historically, we may have let them down. And that is the first step - to acknowledge that we have actually wronged the customers. Once we had taken that step, we had to offer a solution. We had already taken the steps to fix all the issues, but just that the perception was still lingering. We did a very simple thing. That was to be transparent and pass the control back to customers. Customers can go to the website, find out what service price to expect. If they don't get that service price at the dealer, they can question the dealer, and could also approach us. But what it does is, they get what they see on the website. And that is a huge empowerment. And with that they can also push back if they don't find it in line with their expectation. That is how we tackled that issue.

Can you tell us three ways through which brands could stay relevant in today's fast-paced and constantly evolving market?

Brands need to have a clear purpose, they need to be obsessed about customers and be authentic.

Can a brand succeed with a blanket strategy for the entire Indian market?

It depends on the kind of product or services and the kind of customer base you're talking to. In a category like automobiles, we see better efficiencies by being consistent in our messaging. I'm talking from a product offering, as well as marketing communications perspective. Being consistent, because what I stand for as a brand has to stay true, despite the regional differences. It is more important to understand what we as brands stand for, what is the need of the consumer that we are fulfilling, irrespective of the geography that they come from, and then stick to that and deliver on that promise. That to us is more efficient than being localised just for the sake of it.

How do you address the challenges of localisation in a vastly diverse market such as India with great social and cultural differences?

Localisation has to be authentic. If I do something sitting in Delhi, and it doesn't connect with the consumer down South, then I am not being an authentic brand. So, how we deliver on the localisation is through our dealer partners. They are the ones in the market and understand the cultural nuances. So, when we have a launch and there is a press event, they can imbibe all the local flavours, and bring the cultural aspects. If there is an event or a customer experiential like customer drives, they can be packaged in a local language or culture around a theme, which is more natural and intuitive. But when operating centrally, we don't try to be consciously doing that. We'll leave it to our channel partners to deliver that feeling.

What are the specific approaches that you have tried in the Southern market when it comes to branding and consumer engagement?

We don't like to differentiate; I think all markets are important for us. We leave it to our dealer partners in terms of any special flavour, whether it is the delivery process, or how you greet the customers. Beyond certain hygiene factors we leave it to them.

This article is part of a brand initiative by The Hindu BusinessLine to profile marketing professionals from across India.

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Published on October 10, 2019
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