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“India is a hub for small cars”

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Nigel Wark, Executive Director, Marketing, Sales and Service, Ford India

In a candid chat with Ruchika Kumar of Pitch, Nigel Wark talks about key marketing strategies for Ford India. Excerpts:

What are some of your key learnings from your postings in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and India?
That the customer actually knows best. Today marketers cannot force the customer to do things that they do not want to do. Ford India, today, is about building vehicles that customers want – as distinct from forcing customers to buy the products.

Our job is to make sure that we listen, observe and then make statements. That is using the power of our natural resources: our two ears, two eyes and mouth.
Marketing earlier was not like this. It operated in the grey areas, was more about the organisation and its functioning. That’s the not the way an informed consumer would behave or react to now.

So how do you listen to the consumer?
We started engaging consumers at an altogether different level starting from Figo in a very positive way and moved to Discover Smart Drive, engaging real people with the products. We picked four couples on a drive from Chandigarh to Chennai – a 30-day trip, cover almost 100 kms per day, trying to bring their experiences to life. We got them through social media. We did not pay them anything except for covering the daily expenses. Then we have done a lot of experiential work through our Fiesta Café in New Delhi. The Café is a technology hub that delivers the excitement of the look and feel that the product has from the tech point of view. Similarly, Swap Your Drive too had individuals exchanging their owned cars for a Figo or a Fiesta for a week. Their experiences and reactions were turned into commercials. Swap your Drive is an extension of the Fiesta Experience campaign, where four individuals shared their experiences of driving a Fiesta.

You have personified your target audience as Sandeep (for Figo) and Ajay (for Fiesta). What’s the thought process behind this?
It is a lot easier to identify your TG this way. We do the same in other markets as well. We interact with consumers not revealing our identity and spend time with them… carry out research into their lives, aspirations and desires etc, interact with them at their offices and homes… conduct psychographic tests. This helps us to know how they will respond to our products; we implement that into our products.

How’s India different from other markets globally?
India has its nuances. People believe in value and they want to drive value. The small car segment is a strong market here – because of certain cost parameters and focused view. For us, India is a small car hub. We are utilising India for low displacement engines, and exporting the cars to other markets.

Can you throw some light on your STP (segmentation, targeting and positioning) strategy?
It differs from product to product… it is obviously consumer-led, affected by factors such as competition etc… We are not focusing just on the Tier-I and Tier-II cities. The hinterland, and the Tire-III & IV too are equally important for us. A lot of our growth in the past eight to nine months has come from these places. We have plans to increase the number of locations significantly in the country over the next three to five years.  In the next 12 months we will be going to 20 cities (currently 108 cities) – which is a steady growth plan.

The reason why we cannot make it a large number quickly is because we take the process very seriously. We do a proper study of the city, appointing dealers, look at the opportunities, potential prospects, scrutinise our dealers why they want Ford dealership, their success rate etc… We then select two-three such candidates and bring them to a Ford panel of senior leaders. This can actually take up to 12 months to do that kind of research. This also includes time taken to conclude formalities related to acquisition of land for dealership etc.

Your comments on Indian roads and where do Ford products fit in the scheme of things?
Our cars are made to suit the terrain, infrastructure of the markets we cater to. However, with better infrastructure, it would be possible to get more and more sophisticated technology. Having said that, inconsistency in type of fuels is a bit of a concern for us. Nevertheless, there are high quality products in the Indian market and that encourages us to offer global standards here. We have classic customisations for Indian market – water wading, as monsoons play havoc in a lot of parts of the country. Secondly, the air-conditioning is according to the high levels of temperature in the country, a feature exclusive to the Indian market.

How do you see competition shaping up in India?
There is no one biggest competitor. That depends on what names we have in each segment. We say ‘yes there is a market leader’ but others coming in fast. What takes us to become better and more successful in this area is to look at ourselves as the biggest challenger and not competition – and we’ll be looking at delivering on a timely basis, managing the costs associated with that outcome and that’s what the team is focusing on.

So what are your growth expectations for the coming months?
There are number of challenges in the market now with high interest rates and rising fuel prices. The latter has brought in a swing in the market with an increasing preference for diesel engines. We are continuing to grow in terms of numbers. On the export front, we are exporting Figo very successfully to 27 countries and we are pushing to ship to 50 countries shortly. Thus the stress is not just about the Indian market but about the capacity in all these markets as well.

Can you tell us a bit about your digital expenditure?
We started with Figo with seven per cent of our ad budgets into digital some 20 months ago. For Fiesta it is about 20 percent. For launches in future, you can expect more investment from Ford in interactive media.

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