Mass media advertising just isn’t good enough when it comes to reaching truck buyers.
"We’ve been advertising with Ford trucks and our ’Built Ford Tough’ logo since 1977. We don’t have a lack of people knowing who we are," said Todd Eckert, truck marketing manager, Ford Division. "Our goal is to engage our customers in a more personal way."
That means reaching out to truck customers where they live and play and becoming an integral part of the things that they are passionate about, he said.
"We know, for example, that 76 percent of F-Series buyers and truck customers in general love to hunt and fish. So we have an alliance with Cabela’s, the world’s foremost outfitter," said Eckert. "It’s not only finding where our truck customers are playing and where they’re active, but it’s also making sure that we link up with a high-profile partner."
Ford Truck has developed alliances with other high-profile partners, including country music star Toby Keith, NASCAR, Professional Bull Riders, Monster Jam, the American Quarter Horse Association and the National Future Farmers of America.
Mark Fields, Ford’s President of the Americas, and country superstar and Ford Truck Man Toby Keith unveil Ford’s all-new 2008 F-450 Super Duty pickup at the State Fair of Texas last fall.
"We’ve studied the research in terms of how truck customers index with different activities and then we’ve gone and found the best partner in each of those arenas," said Eckert.
But the partnerships go way beyond simply signs and banners. As part of Ford Truck’s sponsorship of country music star Toby Keith’s concert series, for example, Ford’s presence is fully integrated into the show.
"We have the front of an F-150 on stage. Before that, we had a Super Duty on stage in a similar way, so that while he’s playing his whole concert you can’t miss the Ford connection," said Eckert. "We also have a video that opens up the concerts that features our trucks, and it really gets a good response from the crowd."
Ford partnership with Professional Bull Riders (PBR) has been very successful.
"PBR is the fastest-growing sport in America," said Eckert. "We know that 44 percent of F-Series buyers either watch or attend bull-riding events. So it’s a lifestyle choice that fits very well with who the truck customer is. And bull riding is just about as tough a sport as there is out there so it fits very well with our brand because we have the toughest trucks."
Ford even sponsors a bull named Super Duty. Last year, Ford and the PBR started a contest called "Battle for the Bull Ultimate Fan Experience," which affords one lucky winner the opportunity to be Super Duty’s stock contractor for one year.
"We wanted to provide someone with the experience to feel what it’s like to be a stock contractor, somebody who owns a bull and brings a bull to an event. For the people who watch PBR and come to the events, that’s something they could only dream about doing," said Eckert.
Making that sort of an emotional connection with consumers is vital to any company’s success in today’s saturated media market, according to Michael Bernacchi, Ph.D., professor of Marketing at the University of Detroit Mercy College of Business.
"Increasingly, we’re looking to get into the consumer’s bloodstream, to become part of their DNA," he said. "There’s no campaign in the history of mankind that is not better if it has a strong grassroots component, whether it’s a national election or an election for an automobile."
Bernacchi says the whole idea of companies interacting with customers represents the future of marketing.
"Event marketing 20 years ago would cause somebody to scratch his head. Today, because we know that advertising has its limitations, we seek those opportunities to connect with consumers where these consumers are," he said. "We’re trying to be as intimate, as interpersonal and as specific as we possibly can. This is a drilling hole that’s only getting deeper and deeper."
"You have to leverage the sponsorship in a way that provides the customer the opportunity to experience or get something that they couldn’t get in another place," said Eckert. "You can give them jackets and all those other things, but in the end, to really make an impact in this marketplace we have to look for ways to really differentiate ourselves."