DEARBORN – At a recent gathering at the Dearborn Inn, Henry Ford III, outgoing Ford Performance global marketing manager, gave a presentation to a group of retired Ford engineering executives. As he touched on, the old adage “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” has morphed with the digital age, creating new ways for Ford to reach fans and customers through motorsports.
Despite a recent dip in attendance and TV ratings, NASCAR remains the most popular form of racing in the United States, and the easiest way for Ford to reach fans and loyalists, he explained.
“It’s still a great platform for us to reach Mustang customers and truck buyers,” said Ford. “The digital and social metrics behind NASCAR are increasing pretty rapidly. NASCAR is a huge mouthpiece for us. It’s a megaphone, almost.”
Ford also talked about the various demographics and audiences the company can reach through different race series, such as the International Motor Sports Association and FIA World Endurance Championship, in which the Ford GT supercar competes. Ford also participates in FIA World Rallycross, World Rally Championship and Formula Drift, among other series.
Those platforms go beyond motorsports fans and extend to engineers and technology enthusiasts, Ford explained, while the Ford GT supercar allows Ford Performance to boast about technologies like EcoBoost, aerodynamics and light-weighting initiatives.
“At the end of the day, it’s about connecting with customers and creating a sense of ‘Ford Motor Company really gets it,’ " he said.
Ford said that while it’s difficult to quantify the company’s return on investment in racing using a dollar figure, the goal is to attract more followers to the brand.
“We know it helps,” he said. “And we know Ford race fans speak a lot more highly of the Ford brand and are willing to buy Ford products. Ultimately, they’re truly advocates for the Ford brand and they’re going to tell their friends and neighbors about Ford and the products they buy.”
The company’s digital and social media efforts have largely replaced television advertising, Ford went on to explain.
“There’s exponential growth when people share our content with their own networks, so it allows us to get our message out,” he said. “It really gives us a way to reach larger audiences, but more efficiently than we were on TV.”
Ford Performance claims more than 5 million followers on social media, including 4 million on Facebook, nearly 800,000 on Instagram, and approximately 200,000 each on Twitter and YouTube. On social media, engagement can be measured in clicks and shares, impressions and reach – metrics that usually spike following a Ford Performance victory.
Social media targeting allows Ford Performance to pinpoint followers who are more likely to own a performance vehicle, a segment where the growth, Ford said, is outpacing the rest of the industry. Ford Performance’s social media content can also sway other followers to another Ford product outside of the performance portfolio, he added.
“We always try to connect what we do on the racetrack with what our customers touch and feel in their vehicles on the road,” said Ford. “We really try to cement that connection between the race and the road.”
Beyond marketing, the company’s participation in motorsports also benefits research and development, allowing engineers to test new technologies, said Ford.
“There’s actually a purpose to racing, and that is to prove out those technologies in the race car that we can then integrate into our vehicles,” he said.
Ford also revisited the formation of Ford Performance. The entity was created in 2014 to align racing and performance vehicles under one umbrella, which gives the company a better platform.
“We unified everything we were doing – from racing to production,” he said, adding Ford Performance was created to support the company overall. “Everything we do at Ford Performance is an effort to polish the Blue Oval and really build up the Ford brand.”
Ford Performance has also expanded its presence in the auto parts aftermarket, which is a billion-dollar industry, explained Ford.
Mike Thomas, who worked in product strategy and product development before retiring in 1998, was in attendance at the Dearborn Inn. He said he appreciated Ford’s explaining how social media has changed the company’s approach to marketing through motorsports, which was limited to NASCAR and drag racing when he was active with the company.
“I’m not that close to racing, so it’s nice to understand the business aspects of it and how we capitalize on it,” said Thomas. “We don’t know about social media because it came after our time, so it was really good.”
Henry Ford III, who in 2006 joined the company established by his great-great grandfather, is transitioning to a new role as business strategy manager on the global strategy team after about three years with Ford Performance. He has also worked in labor relations and purchasing for the company.