Kelley takes on Ford challenge

By Published on .

Ford motor co. handed Brian Kelley a big job when it hired him last year to head its newly formed ConsumerConnect unit.

The global unit's mission is to transform Ford into a leading online consumer company by anticipating the wants and needs of consumers and delivering them in real time.

Mr. Kelley, 39, formed Ford partnerships with what he dubs "the best of the online world," including Yahoo!, teen site, women's site iVillage and Oracle Corp. In addition, Ford has taken equity stakes in Microsoft Corp.'s and J.D. Power & Associates'

In the future, he predicts success will be based on combining the best of the online world with the best brick-and-mortar companies, or what he calls "the best in e-tail and the best in retail."


He's learned marketers can't stop the flow of information to consumers online, and those that try to set up impediments won't grow as fast as those that do provide it. Dealers of Ford and its stable of car brands provide vehicle prices on their Web sites, accessible via Consumers who turn to third-party Web sites for pricing risk getting inaccurate information.

"Our dealers own the cars. So when they put prices online, that's what they're going to charge," he says.

Mr. Kelley came into the brand realm when he joined Procter & Gamble Co., where he held a number of brand management posts. He moved into appliances with his 1994 switch to General Electric Co. In a speech this summer, he said he probably knows more about washers and dryers than anyone he knows as a result of the time he spent at GE.

During that speech, he said the Internet provides a huge opportunity to draw customers to Ford brands online, build loyalty and improve the buying experience -- both online and at dealerships.

And in the online realm, strong, trusted brands such as Ford win out over lesser-known ones, Mr. Kelley insists. He says 75% of prospects who order a certified-used Ford vehicle via one of its Web sites end up buying it vs. the less than 25% who buy a used vehicle from a third-party auto-buying site.


The auto marketer's brand stable offers Ford, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lincoln, Mazda, Mercury and Volvo vehicles. Each brand has its own Web site that links to Ford's and to dealers.

The Yahoo! partnership, announced at the start of this year, is driving traffic from Yahoo! Autos to Ford's online site, which averages roughly 1.5 million unique visitors a month, according to Media Metrix.

The iVillage and Bolt ventures aren't generating as many eyeballs. But, Mr. Kelley says, Ford has been able to get better "depth of interaction" with visitors to those two sites who reveal their likes and dislikes about the Ford vehicles they own.

"We learn every month from consumer comments on the Web sites."

Most Popular