Blogger Outreach: How Ford is Getting it Right

by Kerry O'Shea Gorgone

Last November, I replied to a tweet from my friend, C.C. Chapman. Given the choice, C.C. asked, would you prefer a free Tesla or a free Mustang. The replies came fast and clearly favored the Tesla, but I’m a muscle car enthusiast, so I replied that I’d take the Mustang.

That same day, I received a direct message from someone working with Ford, inviting me to an Orlando-area event for women bloggers.

Although late November is a busy time, I attended the event, and sat next to Chaun Avery, Orlando Regional Ford Lincoln Sales Operations Manager at Ford Motor Company. We talked about Ford’s new models, some of which we’d get to see later that afternoon. I casually mentioned that I’d be interested in an electric car, but didn’t want the hassle of finding an outlet to plug it in away from home. That’s when Chaun recommended I try the C-Max, which recharges every time you brake.

I drove the car that afternoon, and already hated to give it up.

Chaun offered me an extended test drive, and after a few emails, I was at her office, signing some simple forms to borrow the car in a “blogger loan.” She came out for a test drive, explained the car’s features, and sent me on my way.

That was it. No hard sell. No sell, period. Brilliant!

Here’s what happened. I loved the car. My family loved the car. I tweeted some pictures of the car, including a disclosure that I’d received a free extended test drive.

People asked, enviously, how I’d managed to get an extended test drive. “I asked,” was the simple answer, although of course I happened to meet the right person to ask! I drove the car to work, and let my co-workers see it. I drove Kim Garst to lunch when she happened to be near my office one day, and let her check it out.

When Lynette Young came to Orlando, I contacted Chaun and let her know Lynette was in the market for a hybrid car and would probably love driving the C-Max as much as I did. Lynette and Chaun exchanged some paperwork, and I handed over my new favorite car for a week. (Of course, I got it back afterward.) Lynette loved the car, too. She even tweeted about it.

For marketers keeping track, this entire process has involved very little cost to Ford: one event, social monitoring, targeted outreach and a genuine passion for letting people try the cars.

And the smartest move on Ford’s part? No move at all. Hand over the keys, and let me drive the car.

Well played, Ford, well played.

Jerome Pineau February 26, 2014 at 8:19 am

So I’m missing something here — where’s the great review Kerry did for this car?

Kerry O'Shea Gorgone February 26, 2014 at 8:43 am

Hi Jerome,
Thanks for your comment. I’m not a product review blogger: Ford gave me the car to get my input (which I’ve given them). I’m under no obligation to talk about the car publicly at all, and that’s what’s brilliant. They knew I’d love it, and I do. Consequently, I’ve tweeted, shared on Facebook, posted to Google+ and Instagram, and told my extensive network (online and offline) that I absolutely love this car (and why).

Because I don’t do product reviews per se, and because they know I haven’t received anything from Ford, people trust my positive opinion of the C-Max that much more.

So, instead of a single post reviewing the car, Ford has won a brand advocate. I tell everyone who asks that I genuinely love of the car, and share the specs, as well as my personal experience driving it. Rather making a single post pursuant to a contractual obligation, I consistently share my love of the car. It’s a lasting affinity, rather than a one-off blog post, and I’d imagine that many car manufacturers would be thrilled to have a handful of people who love driving their vehicles as much as I love the C-Max.

All best,

Mack Collier February 26, 2014 at 11:58 am

Very smart move by Ford, and I can attest to the fact that Kerry has been telling others about her C-Max! Basically what Ford has done is create an advocate then empower them to market for the brand. Ford marketing the C-Max doesn’t resonate with me because I view their communication as just being marketing. But when Kerry explains why she loves the C-Max, I pay attention because I trust Kerry.

This is what rock stars do, empower their fans to market for them, love it!

Jerome Pineau February 26, 2014 at 11:00 am

Hi Kerry, ok I get it, thanks for clarifying. So now the question I’d have is how does Ford gauge the number of cars they sold via your good WOM?
Unless someone goes in and says “hey, I’m here to buy a c-max because my friend Kerry says they rock” – and the dealer records that motivation – then they can’t measure the impact of this approach can they?

Mack Collier February 26, 2014 at 11:53 am

Jerome that same logic applies to billboard advertising, for example. Right? There’s always difficulty in tracking which touchpoint triggered a sale, regardless of the marketing channels utilized. Brands should strive for ways to track sales/referrals and even changes in sentiment as best they can.

But what Ford can track is online mentions generated by Kerry as well as any responses from potential customers. That’s the advantage of online vs offline WOM, the online kind is far easier to track and manage.

Kevin M Green February 26, 2014 at 12:12 pm

Or TV spots. I understand the need to measure sales, but let’s not forget the value of the upper funnel. The more people sharing positive thoughts about a product increases consideration. Over time (and if Ford can scale) i would assume they will see increases in purchases in areas where they activate advocates. They will also recognize the benefits from a consumer sentiment standpoint. Hard metrics are important… but the initial soft metrics will drive people down the funnel if the dots are connected. Ford knows how to do this.

Mack Collier February 26, 2014 at 12:23 pm

Right Kevin, it’s the same thing. Although with tv spots you now have hashtag integration, which helps a bit with tracking discussions generated.

I agree with Jerome’s larger point about the need to do a better job of tracking each channel’s effectiveness in leading to a sale, just wanted to make sure we focus on the fact that this is a problem common to all marketing channels, not just efforts that originate online.

Jerome Pineau February 26, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Yes no doubt – I was just curious if they had some special way to track these initiatives. You could, presumably, use some sort of redemption or couponing system — some code which, if mentioned, would signal the origin of the action.

And clearly there are other benefits beyond pure sales to having WOM support from influencers.

Mack Collier February 26, 2014 at 12:20 pm

Jerome I agree with you, the tracking is typically missing across the marketing board, and is often misapplied when it’s present. The best that we typically see are ‘refer a friend’ type programs that aren’t very effective, IMO.

There should be two elements:

1 – Thorough understanding of which customers are generating positive WOM about the brand. Or maybe TRUSTWORTHY WOM about the brand would be a better way to state it.

2 – Thorough understanding of which ACTIVITIES these customers are engaging in that are driving other customers closer to sales.

If the brand understands WHICH customers are doing the best marketing for them and WHAT activities they are engaging in that are pushing other customers closer to the sale, then they could offer them the tools they need to CLOSE the sale at that point. Or at least the final nudge to put them in contact with the person that can close the sale on the brand’s behalf.

Totally agree with your larger point on the need for better tracking.

Hugh Anderson February 26, 2014 at 3:56 pm

Nice case-study, Kerry, thanks for sharing. The attribution question is an interesting one given how left-field the outreach is. What I mean by that is that whilst you are an influencer in various circles, cars is not one of them (as you point out), so to what extent is the readership who are exposed to this relevant to Ford and, therefore, likely to act on it? In Ford’s case I guess it works as we pretty much all drive cars (tho I prefer my bike!) so all general positive exposure is good. But I’m not sure that this transfers to many smaller businesses with niche products who would have to be much more targeted as to which bloggers they pick. I guess it comes down to the size of the brand and the type of influencer that is being sought.

Mack Collier February 26, 2014 at 4:34 pm

Hugh that’s a fabulous clarification. And in general, I think blogger outreach programs work better for larger brands for the very reason you eluded to: Because they have a much larger customer base and can go many different ways with their program. Excellent addition to the discussion!

Hugh Anderson February 26, 2014 at 4:52 pm

Well I kind of agree that big brands have more options with their outreach, but the flipside is that blogger outreach can be very effective for small brands because they can laser target their audience, it doesn’t cost big bucks and it is measurable. They can’t all do a “Ford” but they can still get a win.

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