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Ford drills employees on target customers

Automaker uses political playbook to identify buyers and wants workers to think like them.

Bryce G. Hoffman / The Detroit News

Do you always have to have the best? Do you measure your success by what you have and others don't?

If so, you're not Ford Motor Co.'s kind of customer.

But if you have a lust for life, enjoy outdoor activities, value family and hard work, then you're the sort of person Ford thinks it can sell a car or truck.

And the automaker is making sure that its white-collar workers know who you are.

Like political operatives dissect the voting public, Ford is segmenting American consumers and drilling the characteristics of each category into employees so they can think like the buyers Ford is trying to reach with its vehicles.

As part of its ongoing comeback effort, Ford is holding classes for salaried employees to make sure they understand the company's new brand identities and to introduce them to the types of consumers Ford wants to target.

"It's basically taking people through who our customers are, who they are not and how we reach them … ," said Ford spokesman Jim Cain. "Everything flows from who these people are and how we connect with them."

Political strategists have made a science of figuring out who's likely to vote for their candidate, who isn't and who's undecided. They've divided America into easily identifiable groups. Think soccer moms and NASCAR dads.

Now Ford's doing it with the automotive marketplace.

There's "Fast Company," the materialistic types driven by status that Ford figures are shopping more upscale brands. There's "Homesteading," a polite term for couch potatoes Ford would be happy to build a car for but is not going to focus on attracting. And there's "Lust for Life," the group Ford considers the primary target market for its Blue Oval brand.

"It's a very diverse group of people from the standpoint of age, race and sex," Cain said. "What binds them together is family and activities that come from this very American idea that hard work is what makes you a success."

These are just some of the consumer groups Ford has identified in rethinking the marketplace and its place within it. It is a strategy first outlined by Mark Fields, president of Ford's Americas group, at the Los Angeles auto show in January. Since then, the company has been holding special sessions to share that vision with white-collar employees. The classes are part of a broader effort to shake up Ford's hidebound culture that also includes regular video pep talks from Fields and e-mailed messages from Chairman and CEO Bill Ford Jr.

Each participant in the two-hour sessions gets a blue wristband with the company's new motto: "Red, White & bold." They also get a Blue Oval lapel pin and a wallet card that outlines the main points of the presentation.

The sessions are led by Mary Lou Quesnell, a senior marketing executive who was instrumental in developing the brand element of Ford's "way forward" program. Attendance is not mandatory, but encouraged so all employees know what the Ford, Mercury and Lincoln brands stand for and the target buyer for each.

"It's necessary now," said Gerald Meyers, former chairman of American Motors Corp. who teaches at the University of Michigan. "The message has to not only be presented, it has to be accepted."

Meyers said it is important that every member of the Ford organization understand where the automaker wants to go with each of its brands. But they are not the only ones who need to hear and understand that message.

"The dealers have to buy in, the suppliers, their shareholders, Wall Street," Meyers said. "Each of those constituencies need to buy into the brand identity if it is to succeed."

Cain agreed.

"It's up to us to be very focused, very confident," he said, "and let people judge us inside and outside by our actions."
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