The Tom Dougherty Blog


Posts tagged “FORD”

There is one thing this blog is not: Quality.

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I’ve decided that I hate the word quality.

I know. Hate is a strong feeling to have about anything. But, when this word is plastered on billboards or lingering around slogans, I can’t help but feel a welling sense of anger.

Is there any term as commonly used and equally as meaningless?

Old vector round retro vintage labelHaving a sense of quality should be an absolute with any company seeking to steal market share. It, however, shouldn’t be a measure of differentiation, ever. Consumers should expect that what you do will have a degree of excellence (or quality) stamped on it no matter what. If not, you shouldn’t be in the game to begin with. So when I see the term quality, I see a brand that has taken the easy way out, and lacks all originality.

Here’s the gist of what I mean:

You may not realize this but at Wendy’s, “Quality is our recipe.”

Ernst & Young will offer you, “Quality in everything we do.”

Oh, and by the way, at Ford, “Quality is job one.”

Here are some of my own, which most likely you could find in the marketplace, too:

“Quality Service, every time.”

“Quality is our middle name.”

“Where quality comes first.”

It’s time to take meaningless drivel like this out of the equation. So listen up, those of you who believe “quality is key” — it isn’t!

Another year of automotive reviews, and the winner is…

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Not Ford. This year, Ford, which rose to it highest ever ranking of 5th in last year’s J.D Power and Associates U.S. consumer study, has descended to 23rd. Toyota meanwhile, has risen to 7th, recovering from the recalls that resulted in last year’s placing of 21st. The rapid rise and fall of rank is a reminder that, while new product offerings and product recalls might have effects in the short term, brand equity is what dictates the long term viability.

This is not to say that there is not equity in Ford’s brand, just that 23rd is probably a fair representation of that brand as it stands now. Likewise, 7th place is probably a more fair representation of Toyota’s brand equity.

Ford does heavy advertising, but awareness is not its problem. The problem is the messaging itself. Most often it talks about table stakes such as solid MPG or innovative features – claims that every competitor in the market makes. If companies only say what everyone else in the market can say, then they have no opportunity to create differentiation and growth.

Ford had a great 2010 but its future messaging must talk more about its brand and less about the specs of its automobiles. Talking about nice interiors, horsepower, MPG’s, and durability provides the rationale consumers use to justify the purchase. But brand is what makes them believe they need it in the first place.

Chevy Volt is Motor Trend's Car of the Year. Who cares besides Chevy?

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Motor Trend has named Chevy Volt the “Car of the Year” for 2011, even though the car is not available yet. I cant’ help but think about how useless these industry rags have become over the years. Does the Addy Awards for best TV commercial actually mean the commercial worked (i.e.., grew sales)? Not hardly. It represents represents self-congratulatory hyperbole.

A look at some of the recent winners brings up such long-lasting blockbuster models as Ford Thunderbird (2002) and Chrysler’s PT Cruiser (2001).

It all makes is sound like Motor Trend is simply industry fodder, rather than a perspective of what may actually be most meaningful to consumers.

Just something to think about the next time you read about industry awards. They don’t mean lick.

Just ask the three folks who bought the now discontinued Chrysler PT Cruiser.

Toyota: A powerful brand may be your undoing

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This may seem strange coming from a brand guy, but investing in a powerfully recognized brand has its pitfalls.

Consider Toyota, which is erroneously considered a powerful brand (as opposed to what I would call it — a popular brand) and has failed to manage the equity (quality and reliability —see my earlier blog about that) that it claimed. If you are going to stake everything on a category table stake like quality, then you had better make sure you have the operational issues in place to prevent slip-ups.

Today, Toyota as a brand name has been besmirched. The head of the company today said, “We allowed growth to outstrip quality control.” As a result all of Toyota has suffered. Not just the Prius. Every Toyota model has suffered.

Contrast this with what happened in 1978 to Ford and the Ford Pinto.

I remember vividly going to a football game with my best high school buddy in 1978 in his brand new Ford Pinto. We pulled up to a traffic light and the guy in the car next to us rolled down his window and asked sarcastically, “So, how do you like driving around in a time bomb?” As some of you might remember, the Pinto was known for its gas tank exploding if you were hit from behind.

What is interesting about this story is that the sneering driver spoke those words from the front seat of his Ford Country Squire Station wagon.

Detroit in those days (and even to a big part today) invested its marketing in branding its models (like Pinto and Mustang) with Ford (the parent brand) in a supporting role. It was a MUSTANG (capital letters) by ford (lower case).

As a result of this inefficient brand model, Ford was spared the brunt of this recall. It was not a safety inconvenience like an “occasionally sticky accelerator pedal” — no. It was a gas tank that exploded, not just a sticky pedal.

What is interesting is that Pinto had the problem, not Ford. Ford continued to sell cars. Pinto faded away (even after the fix).

Am I suggesting that everyone follow the “house of brand models” (like Ford in 1978) as opposed to the “branded house model” (read more about these two branding models here)? Not at all.  I am just suggesting that when you invest in the brand model you fully understand the obligations that go along with it.

Toyota has a problem. It is not Prius or Corolla or acceleration or braking. It is a problem with what their brand promises. Too bad no competitor (except BMW) has a real brand right now. If they did, they could take customers from the world’s largest automaker permanently. As it is, this is just a blip.

Another bullet for Toyota who now has Prius brake problems.

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Looks like Toyota Prius is having some brake problems and this is BIG news? It is news only because Toyota pretended to own “best practices” in the auto industry and built its brand on what should be the minimum requirement to be an automobile manufacturer — quality.

You cannot OWN as a brand, something that is directly attributed to every manufacturer in a category. Does anyone who buys a NISSAN believe the NISSAN automaker does not make a quality product? Does Honda? Does Ford? Well, OK, maybe GM… but that is about it.

Think where Toyota would be right now if its brand was built on “smart” instead of “quality?” Toyota would then have permission to proactively recall cars in an attempt to help the “smart” purchasers of Toyota cars avert a potential problem. Now I am not suggesting that “smart” is the correct brand promise for Toyota or even GM, for that matter.  What I am saying is that brand promises should be built around a customer definition and not simply around a description of the manufacturer. What that promise should be is only found by applying the principles for stealing market share.

The auto industry is a low bar when it comes to branding to win. Shame on any of them for continuing to stick their heads in a hole.

What do Ford Motor Company and CVS Pharmacies have in common?

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According to The associated press —

Ford Jan. sales climb 25 pct; Subaru also rises

DETROIT – Ford Motor Co.’s sales rose 25 percent in January, buoyed by a stronger economy and Toyota Motor Corp.’s decision to halt U.S. sales of eight popular models because of faulty gas pedal systems.

If you ever needed more proof of the demise of auto industry brands and brand preference all you need to do is look at that first paragraph. Preference is apparently created because folks decided to buy any car and Ford won because Toyota halted sales.

It reminds me of the power struggle going on in the US pharmacy business in which preference is apparently determined by which side of the road a pharmacy chain plops down its store on a corner with four other choices.  Honestly, I just rode past an intersection with a Walgreens and a CVS Pharmacy on opposite sides of a street. Both had electronic signs running advertising crawls about being open 24 hours and touting the price of tissue paper.  One said prescriptions would be ready in 15 minutes. I waited until the light changed hoping to see the other respond with a crawl of their own claiming “prescriptions ready in 14 minutes!”

How is it that major companies like these – Ford, Toyota, Walgreens, CVS, RightAid and countless others – understand so little about their target audiences that they rely on the failure of the competition or a slightly more convenient location to attract customers?

The bar is not all that high for companies that want to win.

Would you buy a Toyota? Not a chance.

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If I were Toyota, I would brace myself for a serious erosion of its sales. Why? Well not simply because of the recall affecting millions of cars. I would prepare myself for a sales drop due to a mediocre brand promise that says Toyota is only about reliability and craftsmanship.

We see the same exact issue affecting fast food pizza — pizza chains think they can own the mind of consumers by telling us to choose based on what should be the lowest common denominator in the category.  For pizza, it is a battle over “tastes pretty good” (read my recent blog on Domino’s) and for automobiles it is “reliability.”

Answer me this, aside from getting place-to-place, why else would you buy any car? Would anyone actually buy a car they thought was unreliable?

It is no wonder the automobile industry is in such a shambles. Major manufacturers like Ford, GM, Nissan, Honda, VW, Chrysler and Toyota believe they can differentiate themselves by such mundane promises. Promises that should be the minimum requirements to be a manufacturer in the first place.

I would suggest that the automobile industry stop the myopic view of their brands and spend a bit of time and energy in figuring out just what their potential customers aspire to become and own if any of them want to actually steal market share from their competitors (read about a CEO’s role in all of this), build brand preference and increase sales.

Shame on Toyota for thinking that we all aspire to realize basic promises and mediocrity.  Would I buy a Toyota since the recall? I would hope that any car I buy would be at a minimum — reliable. If Toyota promises me only that, no, I won’t buy one because they let me down.

I’d like to think I deserve more than being treated like an imbecile.

TOYOTA needs another recall… its brand.

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Toyota is in the news these days and the auto world is quaking over an accelerator issue that has lead to the suspension of sales and a major recall . I have heard some so called “automotive pundits” wonder how this will affect the “Toyota brand” when they have built their brand around reliability.

Two thoughts come to mind, one is how crazy it is to see such trepidation about product recalls in an industry that has them all the time.  Most drivers look at them as a nuisance rather than a bone-shattering disappointment.  After all, I have had a couple of recalls in my experience with Ford and, with Ford, “Quality was job 1.” So, from my perspective, recalls, no matter how large, are par for the course.

For me, the bigger issue is the brand issue. If Toyota built its brand around customers rather than around themselves (Toyota), this would be explainable within the brand itself. For example, the brand would not suffer at all if, instead of believing Toyota stood for quality (which is about Toyota), it represented “a smart driver” (about the owner). After all, it is the providence of a smart driver to be informed and to get any issues, no matter how small, fixed right away. That way, the Toyota brand would have permission to ask the “smart driver” to get the accelerator issue fixed.

Stealing Share has been telling this story as loudly as it can for as long as we have been around. Brand needs to reflect thehighest emotional intensity of the customer and not a promise of efficacy from the manufacturer. While GM is the “Heartbeat of America” and Ford tells us that “the quality goes in before the name goes on.” BMW promises that the owner has sheer driving pleasure. The category is so poorly branded that BMW is as close as we can get to a real brand.

Wake up and embrace a real brand.

GM screws it up again

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I keep up with the comings and goings of the economy because you can’t be a branding company that specializes in stealing market share unless your informational curiosity is personally institutionalized.

This morning, an article crossed my browser (sorry newspapers) that I wanted to comment briefly on.


Apparently, a preliminary deal has been struck by GM to sell its Saturn brand to Roger Penske. Two thoughts come to mind immediately: First, all of us left holding the tab for GM as it re-emerges from bankruptcy should be very worried when one of GM’s strategies to viability includes selling its one brand the represents “different” and “smaller vehicles” so that it can concentrate on the Cadillac brand which represents grandpa’s idea of luxury. 


The other thought is I wish Roger Penske was running the new and improved GM instead of the knuckleheads that ran this once great company into the ground.