Retail Marketing By Ford Motor Company

By: Jim Butterworth

In “Marketing to Generations”, Kaylene C. Williams and Robert A. Page discuss how to market to different generations, focusing on approaches to each generation’s unique characteristics and behaviors. In order to illustrate Williams and Page’s recommended appropriate multi-generational marketing strategies, I have associated each generation with specific car models aimed at each generation by Ford Motor Company, and how Ford markets to each generation.

The paper distinguishes between six generations, which can be further condensed into four distinct generational categories (three of which we routinely reference in class). Each generation has its unique characteristics that should be respected by marketers as they attempt to influence the purchase decision of members of each of the generations.

Generation Table

The oldest generation, the Silent Generation, made up of Americans 70 years of age and older, is conservative (socially and financially), and patriotic. They tend to look for products “made in the U.S.A.”. They are very loyal and prefer the tried-and-true.

The United States automotive manufactures have a captive audience, albeit shrinking, in this generation. Not only that, each individual manufacturer has its own narrower captive audience of the Silent Generation. The only major ways a company will lose a customer of this generation is through dishonesty or disrespect.

Automobile dealerships need to show respect to members of this generation to retain their loyalty. The Silent Generation prefers face-to-face contact, with direct eye contact, a firm hand shake, and not having their time wasted. Dealerships can provide most of this information pre-visit through traditional advertising outlets, such as television, radio, print media, direct mailings, and billboards.

The largest car buying generation, by far, is the Baby Boomers. Baby Boomers have discretionary income, and the time to use the income. In 2013, Baby Boomers accounted for 40% of all new vehicles sold. Generation X, at 24%, was the next closest generation in the purchase of new vehicles. Although aging, this demographic is of utmost importance to the automotive industry; not only do they buy the most vehicles, they buy the most expensive vehicles.

Baby Boomers are individualistic. They define themselves by their careers, rather than their peers’ perception of them. Many are workaholics, leading to the higher discretionary income. They are not price sensitive if they feel they are getting quality and value for their money. They are more concerned with quality and usefulness, rather than with the prestige of a product. As the first “technology” generation, they understand and will employ new technologies.

Automotive manufacturers should attract this generation by appealing to the quality of its vehicles, and cash saving alternatives, such as hybrid or high miles-per-gallon vehicles. To appeal to the Baby Boomers individuality, cars should be available with many options. Manufacturers should also realize this is the generation that can most afford to up sold, that is they can and will by bigger engines, leather interiors, better sound systems, etc. The company website should show all available options to let the Baby Boomer design their desired vehicle before entering the showroom.

Car dealerships should attract this generation via TV, direct mail, and the Internet, via social networking sites. Once the customer is at the dealership, they expect thorough, direct answers to their questions. Although they want direct salespersons, they do not want controlling salespersons. The Baby Boomers want to purchase a car for the cheapest price possible, and expect to haggle for that price.

Generation X is the disloyal generation. Unlike many in the Baby Boomer generation who held one or two jobs in their career, Gen X members move from company to company to gain career advancement. They are also disloyal to companies and their brands. As the generation currently raising most of the nation’s children, they are looking for value over loyalty.

Automotive manufacturers should market to this generation emphasizing how its vehicles fit with family. Manufacturers also need to realize they need to market their vehicles constantly to this generation, as unlike the previous generations, brand loyalty is not in the Gen X make-up.

Car dealers should market to cable TV and the Internet, as Gen X has drifted to these markets at the expense of network TV. Once in the showroom, they must show Gen X members that you are an expert on the vehicles, being able to answer all their questions. Dealers must also communicate in a friendly, equal, non-authoritative way.

The final, and youngest, generation is the Millennials. This is the first generation to grow up with the Internet, with its ability to erase global boundaries and provide instant information. They use all aspects of the Internet seamlessly within their daily regimen. This electronic immediacy has enhanced their need for instant results, and they don’t seem to care about the result’s how, what, and whys. This need for instant results also makes haggling over the price of an object undesirable.

They need acceptance by peers, and using social media as a tool for acceptance. They are image driven, and want their image to fit in with their peers. Part of this image is a belief in a better future, via avenues such as environmental foundations.

Automotive manufacturers can appeal to Millennials by flaunting a vehicle’s technology and environment-friendly characteristics.

The dealership needs to reach out with nontraditional sources of advertising. Millennials do not read newspapers, and they watch television online avoiding most commercials. They respond to social media sites, multimedia such as YouTube, and word-of mouth from peers. Since millennials feel a comradery with other millennials, dealerships should employ millennials to assist with the car buying process. Assist, because the millennial isn’t looking for a sales pitch, just a source of information on their selected vehicle, financing option, and the car buying procedure.

You only need to look at Ford’s website as a microcosm of how it markets to each generation. Ford has four sedan models (Fiesta, Focus, Fusion, and Taurus), which have different price points and are marketed in differing ways on its website.

The Taurus is marketed to the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers. The webpage pushes performance and fuel efficiency on the top of the page, then in descending order; available engines, fuel efficiency, interior gallery (showing luxury), lane keeping technology, voice activated SYNC technology (but just a very high level glance at features), high tech driving controls, cruise control and collision avoidance technology, multi-contour front seats, and certified pre-owned Taurus models.

The marketing used on this webpage is used to show the quality of the cars and the technology used in the car that does not require driver control. It also shows the many upscale options that can be added to the base model. It also appeals to the generations’ thriftiness by linking to pre-owned vehicles. This appeals to the Silent Generation’s disinterest in the personal use of technology. The amount of options and the ability to make the Taurus individualistic will appeal to Baby Boomers.

The Fusion appeals to Baby Boomers and Generation X. The webpage starts off by showing the models fuel efficiency and comfortable drive. As you descend the page it spotlights available engines, hybrid technology, interior gallery, SYNC technology, rear view camera, inflatable second-row safety belts and financing.

While the aspects of marketing to the Baby Boomer is still in place with luxury interiors, stronger engines, and many options, you can also see the transformation to Generation X marketing. The Fusion, with its rear view camera and second-row inflatable safety belts, is pushing the family market, and the leading family market is Generation X. As the Baby Boomers co-generational market moves from the Silent Generation on the Taurus, to Gen X on the Fusion, you also see the description of available technologies become a bit more specific. Also, with disposable income becoming tighter starting with Generation X, Ford also supplies a link to financing options.

As we move down Ford’s car model chain, the next model is the Focus, marketed to Generation X and Millennials. The top of the page pushes the Focus’ style and that it is fun to drive. In descending order the aspects of the model Ford pushes on the Focus webpage are looks and technology, available engines, style and “fun to drive”, interior design, SYNC technology, interior gallery, driver assist technologies, the future of Focus, zero CO2 emissions, recharge from home, and MyFord Mobile.

In addition to marketing to Generation X with family aspects such as rear view camera and Driver Assist safety technologies (Blind Spot Information, Lane-Keeping System, Reverse Sensing System, etc.), Ford also starts to use marketing to attract Millennial generation buyers. The inclusion of many technologies, including “green” technologies, on the webpage will start to attract Millennials to purchase the Focus, instead of the cheaper Fiesta model.

Finally, Ford’s least expensive model, the Fiesta, is marketed chiefly to Millennials. It is marketed as sporty, versatile, fun, and intelligent at the top of Fiesta’s webpage. It then accentuates the models fuel economy, interior gallery, user-friendly advanced technology, SYNC technology, exterior design, performance and Ford Social.

The Fiesta’s webpage, more than any other of Ford’s car models, pushes technology and also in a more detailed fashion. It is also the only car model that has a link to Ford’s social media site: FordSocial.

One final note on how Ford markets to different generations can be seen in one feature available in all four models: SYNC technology. The technology is explained differently on each car model. On the higher end Taurus aimed at older buyers, SYNC is marketed as a safety feature that will keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road. When you finally reach the marketing of SYNC to the younger, tech-savvy Millennial buyers of the Fiesta, safety is not even mentioned. SYNC is marketed to Millennials by its features, specifically, LCD touch screen, two USB ports. SD card reader, and navigation. The exact same feature seems extremely different on the two webpages, just by how Ford markets multi-generationally.

As the Millennial generation’s car buying process is causing a sea change in the marketing of cars, I would also like to discuss another car manufacturer that markets almost exclusively to millennials: Scion. Scion uses the marketing advice of Williams and Page almost to the letter. It appeals to the millennial generation by using social media to sell the technology of its vehicles.
The Scion brand differentiates itself from its competition by the amount of technology in its cars. They cater to the millennials need for technology through its BeSpoke product. BeSpoke is a Premium audio system that also employs GPS, Internet radio, podcasts, audiobooks, social media (such as Facebook and Twitter), and location based services, such as restaurant information via Yelp and TripAdvisor.
Technology is also employed within Scion’s website design. It brings all tools for research (Cars, Buying, and Financing) onto one central page. Scion also employs its own social media page, as well as accessing outside sites, such as Facebook and Twitter.

The final marketing feature by Scion, also leads to the dealership marketing of its vehicles: pricing. Scion employs a “price you see, is the price you get” pricing policy, called Pure Price. This policy avoids the haggling, which millennials will strongly avoid.

Companies are beginning to realize there is not a “one size fits all” way of selling cars to a multi-generation car buying market. They now market multi-generationally with multi-marketing campaigns for their individual products.


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Other sources:

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3 thoughts on “Retail Marketing By Ford Motor Company

  1. Andrew Gerry March 18, 2015 / 1:53 pm

    Really interesting article, Jim. Nice work! I think these are some well put observations about the last few generations. Other companies will also have to consider how they will reach current and coming generations.


  2. Josh Peterson April 21, 2015 / 2:30 am

    Marketing to generations is rather interesting. It seems to me that it would be rather difficult to fit everyone into these generational classifications. While I would be considered a Millennial, I do not feel like I fall into any one of these generational category. This can be an issue for marketers trying to develop strategies toward these groupings.


  3. Nick Pappalardo May 12, 2015 / 7:12 pm

    This is a great article. I feel it is very accurate. Ford and almost all the other American auto companies do the exact same thing. The smaller, cheaper cars are almost always marketed towards the younger demographics while the larger, more expansive cars are marketed towards the older generations.


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