Ford Listens Online in Prep for Fusion Debut

As Ford prepares to introduce its first new mid-size car in more than 10 years, the company has undertaken an extensive “listening” campaign online. It’s an effort that’s influencing plans for the pricing and packages consumers will see when the new Ford Fusion 2006 hits showrooms this fall.

“What we’ve been doing is learning a lot over the past six months about consumers’ likes, dislikes, their price resistance,” David Reuter, a spokesperson for Ford, told ClickZ News. “When the car goes on sale in September, we are meeting consumer expectations in terms of package content, and pricing and so forth. We’ll have the right features priced right for consumers.”

Ford, along with agency of record JWT Detroit, are doing their listening via a Web site, fordvehicles.com/fusion. It’s a part of Ford’s overall move to explore digital marketing. Last year, Reuter said, mass media accounted for 80 percent of the brand’s spending, with digital media accounting for the bulk of the remaining 20 percent.

“We did more with digital last year than we ever have done and we expect that to continue in ’05 as we launch Fusion and a couple of other products,” Reuter said.

The target audience for Fusion: Ford Focus owners who want to move up to the next level vehicle but don’t find the Taurus appealing.

“That’s specifically why Fusion was designed — to meet the need in our showroom for a move-up vehicle from the Ford Focus. We hope we can keep them from going outside the Ford brand,” said Reuter.

Ford has undertaken an email campaign to Focus owners who have registered on the company’s My Ford site. The message features a picture of the Fusion along with the headline “Amazing. You didn’t even want a new car two seconds ago.” Copy goes on to say that the Fusion isn’t yet available but that people should go to the Web site to see “Everything Fusion all in one spot.” E-mails are also going out to people who have specifically registered to receive information about the Fusion.

Once people get to the site, they’ll find a front page filled with flashy animations of the car, along with links to still photos and videos. Those who dig deeper will discover a vehicle configurator — something Ford has never done before with a car that isn’t yet available. People can use the configurator to select models, paint colors, seat upholstery, and options. But there’s a catch. The pricing on the configurator is “for survey purposes only and…. prices may vary from visit to visit and will change before the Fusion is launched this fall,” the site warns users. Ford is watching that survey data closely as it prepares to launch the vehicle.

“At the end of that page, after they build and price, is an opportunity for the consumers to give us some information about themselves and what they liked and disliked about Fusion,” said Reuter. “This has been a novel exercise for us.”

So far, more than 60,000 people have gone online to build and price a Fusion in the last three months. Of those, 20,000 or so have continued on to fill out a form that asks them for contact information, for demographic data, and other questions about their car ownership and buying plans.

Reuter said the feedback has already led the company to reconsider some of its plans. For example, it changed its distribution plans for vehicles with heated seats, after users in the warmer parts of the U.S. expressed an interest in such a feature.

“They have some cold months and they really want it at those times of the year,” noted Reuter. “That really surprised us.”

The company plans to unveil online and traditional advertising later this year, when the vehicle hits showrooms.

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