Driving the automotive trend: a need to build more distinctive, targeted products and react faster to market trends in an era of intense competition. The new focus means marketing-savvy executives will play an expanded role in shaping future Detroit models, not just selling them.
Ford, the top-selling auto division, plans to name about five brand managers who will each have broad marketing responsibility for a group of vehicles. Ross Roberts, VP-general manager of Ford division, said the groupings will be determined by the way consumers shop rather than the way Ford manufactures.
That means, for instance, that Ford will disregard the old distinctions between cars and trucks, because consumers cross-shop the vehicles, Mr. Roberts said. Ford's groupings are likely to include youthful, family, utility, commercial and sports specialty.
The old car/truck separations represented how automakers organized themselves around engineering and manufacturing concerns. Putting trucks with cars illustrates they are now putting the emphasis on how customers approach the market.
Chrysler Corp., the other member of Detroit's Big 3, isn't planning to adopt a brand management system but is working hard to clarify its brands and bring marketing input into product development, said A.C. "Bud" Liebler, VP-marketing and communications.
"It sounds like GM and Ford are adding complexity," Mr. Liebler said. "We already have marketing integrated into our platform teams from day one."
For Ford division, which spent $527 million on advertising last year, the restructuring comes at a critical time. Ford is introducing a redesigned Taurus sedan and is preparing for the January introduction of a redesigned F-Series pickup. While Taurus has been the best-selling car in the U.S. since 1992, the F-Series has been the No. 1 vehicle overall for 14 years running. Ford sold 646,039 F-Series units in 1994, compared with 397,037 Tauruses.
Although there are differences in approach and execution, Ford apparently will end up with a marketing organization similar to that being adopted at General Motors Corp. GM later this month is expected to name about 30 brand managers who will determine issues related to the brand image of the models they oversee.
GM started its move after former Procter & Gamble Co. Chairman John Smale became GM's chairman in 1992.
P&G is regarded as the creator of the brand management system, in which the basic idea is that a single executive devotes single-minded attention to all aspects of marketing a brand. The brand manager is empowered to make decisions and tradeoffs to build the brand.
Ronald Zarrella is leading the charge to make brand management the rule at all GM vehicle divisions. Mr. Zarrella, former president of Bausch & Lomb Co., was brought on board last December as VP, GM's North American sales, service and marketing.
Ford's Lincoln-Mercury division adopted brand management earlier this year, naming five car line managers responsible for ensuring that product features and marketing programs match the image for the model and the overall brand (AA, May 29). Lincoln-Mercury agency Young & Rubicam, Detroit, set up account teams to match the division's new setup. Ford division agency J. Walter Thompson USA likely will do the same.
Bobbie Gaunt, named Ford division general marketing manager in June, is heading up the restructuring effort aimed at developing more distinct identities for each model. Ms. Gaunt helped develop Lincoln-Mercury's brand management structure when she was general sales manager there.
Sheldon Wardwell, the implementation manager for Lincoln-Mercury's changes, said the car line managers are researching consumer attitudes as well as historical and product data.
"It's premature to say we can measure the benefits," said Mr. Wardwell, a former Lincoln-Mercury ad manager who is now dealer relations manager. "But now you can sense the passion that each car line manager brings to his line. Whereas, when I was ad manager, I might not have had the same passion for each one."
That restructuring eliminated the position of ad manager, with Dale Jones taking on the new position of marketing communications manager. Mr. Jones, like the car line managers, reports to General Marketing Manager Carl Bergman.
The car line managers work directly with account managers from Y&R in developing ad strategy, while Mr. Jones manages the overall agency relationship such as conducting performance reviews. Mr. Bergman is responsible for sorting out issues that cross car lines, such as allocating marketing budgets.
Ford division now has an overall advertising manager, Gerry Donnelly, and separate ad managers for cars, Judy Pohlod, and trucks, Randy Stewart.
Under the system Ford division is developing, the Ranger compact pickup truck is likely to be grouped with youthful cars such as Escort, Contour and Aspire. The Windstar minivan would end up in the family category with Taurus and Crown Victoria; the Explorer sport-utility and the full-size Expedition sport-utility bowing in the 1997 model year will be in the utility category; and F-Series pickups would be in the commercial category. A sports specialty category could include Mustang, Probe and Thunderbird.
It's expected the brand manager will be responsible for functions such as advertising, merchandising, market research and incentives, and for helping develop products that fit the brand image.
"If a Ranger is supposed to be a youthful vehicle, then hopefully we'll be able to communicate that back to the product [development] community and we'll get that kind of vehicle," Mr. Roberts said.
Ford is gearing up an unusual marketing strategy in its effort to keep F-Series on top in the sales race. Beginning in January, Ford dealers will sell the redesigned 1997 F-150 model alongside older-style 1996 models for at least eight months.
National advertising from JWT is expected to extol toughness in a campaign breaking on the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, dealers and dealer groups will emphasize value in advertising for the 1996 models.
One difference between brand management at Ford and GM is the way brand managers will give input into product development.
It's expected Ford brand managers, like those at Lincoln-Mercury, will interface with the company's worldwide marketing plans unit, which assembles market information from the U.S. and other countries. The marketing plans unit will then work with five global vehicle development centers to put the "voice of the customer" into design of products.
At GM, a brand manager will work in tandem with a vehicle line executive, a top engineer who will oversee design, engineering and manufacturing.
Mr. Liebler said the brand management structure was more complex than the platform team approach adopted by Chrysler in the late 1980s. The platform-team concept brings together representatives from design, engineering, finance, manufacturing, marketing and other disciplines who are empowered to make critical product development decisions.
In that system, a marketing person acts as a liaison between the platform team and the marketing department. Unlike a brand manager, the liaison doesn't have the broad authority over all marketing issues, which are still handled by ad managers, merchandising managers and the like.
Chrysler signaled its interest in building brands recently when it hired former dealer Louis Patane for the new position of executive director-brand marketing.
Meanwhile, Chrysler's management remains focused on heading off the takeover threat by investor Kirk Kerkorian. The automaker yesterday broke the second in a series of ads from Bozell, Southfield, Mich., aimed at keeping shareholders loyal by citing product and financial achievements.
The ad, running this week in major newspapers and newsweeklies, has a photo of a Dodge Viper and the headline, "This is one of the most revolutionary automobiles ever. Not bad for the oldest car in our lineup."