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US:Ford focuses on 3 badges,Brand DNA team seeks consistencies

Ford focuses on 3 badges
Brand DNA team seeks consistencies



Ford Motor Co.'s Way Forward turnaround plan, which aims to restore North American automotive operations to profitability by 2008, isn't all about plant closures and layoffs.

A key piece of the effort also calls for breathing some life into the misguided and confused personalities of the company's struggling Ford, Mercury and Lincoln brands.

Five months into the plan, that objective is coming into focus:

• There's an exciting Bold Moves campaign at Ford, featuring edgy messages and the music of "American Idol" Taylor Hicks.

• Mercury has found its groove, with its hip, sophisticated products and actress-spokeswoman Jill Wagner.

• A Reach Higher marketing theme at Lincoln, which will focus on dreams, is beginning to take shape for the American luxury brand.

But if Ford executives begin to stray -- as they so often have in the past -- they could come up against a new team of marketers, product specialists and sales experts who have been put in charge of protecting the Ford, Mercury and Lincoln identities.

Call them Ford's brand police or, as Ford prefers to call them, the Brand DNA team.

Created in January, after Ford announced its Way Forward, the small squad is headed by Mary Lou Quesnell, the new director of Brand DNA.

The team, she explained during a Tuesday interview, has one overseer for Ford, Mercury and Lincoln, and members are charged with reviewing product plans, marketing strategies and other decisions, to make sure there is consistency across the brand lineups.

Quesnell said the team works with others throughout the company on "how to live the brand."

Sonia Shrank said she believes in her work as the brand DNA manager for the new full-strength Ford. "Many of us," she said, "worked on the Way Forward."

Building a successful automotive company today is about much more than just building high-quality cars and trucks.

It's about building vehicles with a clear personality -- an emotional identity conveyed through styling and marketing -- that appeals to customers and helps the owner company build a brand that engenders a community of Mustang lovers, of F-150 drivers or, say, funky Focus fans.

In today's crowded, noisy automotive marketplace, brands help customers and companies figure out where they and their products fit, demographically and psychologically.

A strong identity, as Apple has with its iPod, can propel a company to success. A weak one, meanwhile, often suffers on the vine, with little personality to recommend it.

Mark Fields, the executive vice president who is heading up the Way Forward turnaround plan, said brand identity is critical as the company moves out of its slump. Ford lost $1.2 billion during the first quarter, and sales for the year are off 3.5%.

"Many people ... view brand-speak as irrelevant," he said in a speech earlier this year. "I'd like to challenge that thinking today, and I'd ask you to think again. ...

"Guess what? Apple and Motorola had been written off less than a decade ago, just like the American auto industry. The headlines were grim. But Apple and Motorola went on the offensive. They redefined themselves, they refocused on their brands, and they connected like never before."

My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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