Connected Users Could Increase Brand Loyalty, Says Ford

Connectivity could increase a consumer’s bond with a brand even more than the sculptured sheet metal of the cars themselves.

This is the opinion of Ford of Europe’s John Lippe director of city engagement Ford Mobility when speaking to TU-Automotive at the 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA). He believes the extra engagement with consumers that connected services can provide will encourage loyalty for their brand of choice.

Lippe explained: “I believe this could provide a bigger opportunity to embed the brand. The conventional view is the badge on the front of the vehicle and the equity the individual has in the brand. However, as you become more involved in the life of your customers in terms of service, the opportunity to build that brand is even greater than with conventional sheet metal.”

He pointed to similar consumer loyalty examples in the personal mobile device world. Lippe said: “Apple is the obvious example here with everything being about the iPhone. Beyond the hardware it’s about the services and the interaction with a package of other products.”

However, he admitted that there remain risks in employing any new business models. “Conventional wisdom asks if there is a dilution of the brand as you move towards a digital world but I think there is a huge opportunity to build customer equity. Of course, this only works if you do it well. The risk is that if you don’t do it well, the opportunity to burn the brand is pretty significant too.”

He said that automakers who are alive to the challenges of greater engagement with consumers could reap huge business benefits. Lippe explained: “Is there a risk to the Ford brand? Actually, we believe this will cement the brand in the eyes of the customer because if you are getting a great experience, when you come to replace the vehicle and you’re thinking that the services of things like Ford Pass should become an additional sticky reason to stay with Ford.

“We believe that by really doing a great job on the interface with the customer we can make that customer a customer for life. The other advantage is through that process we get to know more about the customer and we are increasingly looking at customer-focused design to develop better products that are a better fit for the customer and adding value to the Blue Oval.”

Lippe added that the whole automotive industry is having to consider new business models in the face of the upheaval of emerging technologies currently being seen. He said: “The industry is at a fork in the road and probably the most significant period it has faced in the last 100 years. The first theme is electrification in all its forms not just battery electric vehicles. The second theme is connectivity which is about the opportunities around the vehicle that provide carmakers with a huge potential.

“Thirdly, there’s a shift in consumer expectations covering everything from what they expect to find in vehicle to the use of mobile device services that they expect should flow through to their vehicle. Also, the ownership model – up until a decade ago it was assumed there would be private ownership in some form. Will that continue into the future, are we going to be providing vehicles or mobility services?

“We increasingly believe the services around the vehicle will be a critical part of where the industry needs to go in terms of profitability. This covers areas like digital services to the consumer in the vehicle through to mobility services beyond the vehicle. Can we become a mobility provider that includes the car or commercial van but also combine other public transport solutions where appropriate?”

Data is the linchpin that will guide an automaker’s future relationships with consumers, said Lippe. He concluded: “Data is key to this where we can have a significant advantage with the USP of vehicle data. The question is how do you combine that data with, say, city data to really add value to the consumer and the city to provide a much more holistic service?”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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