A young woman smiles as she records herself for a YouTube video.

Brain+Trust Founder Scott Monty shares the highs, lows and learnings he gathered through helping Ford create the Ford Fiesta Movement.

Influencer marketing is a coveted practice, indeed.

A few years ago, AdWeek predicted it would be the ‘next big thing,’ and it looks like they were right. According to Forbes – influencer marketing is hotter than ever.

But step-for-step with the growth in demand for influencers to carry products to the top of consumers’ minds, are droves of confused creatives who want to take advantage of influencer marketing, but aren’t sure where to start.

How do you find the right influencers?

How do you convince them to get behind your product?

And if you can get your campaign off the ground, how do you know if it’s going to be a success?

An Influencer Marketing Case Study: The Ford Fiesta Movement

Helping to answer all of these burning questions is Scott Monty, CEO and Co-Managing Partner at Brain+Trust Partners in Detroit.

And thanks to his extensive experience – Scott knows a thing or two about running a successful influencer marketing campaign.

Here he shares his past experience helping develop and execute the Ford Fiesta Movement campaign.

Q. Can You Describe How You Started to Incorporate Influencers into Your Marketing?

When I joined Ford, it was the middle of 2008. I was on the Communications team and we were getting ready to do an annual Media Drive, which is when the company invites the auto and business press to the test track – and as a reward for attending, the media gets the chance to drive out on the track. It’s the kind of event everyone romanticizes when you think about being at an auto company.

I thought it was interesting and asked, “Why don’t we invite some bloggers?”

While they had some auto bloggers already invited, I wanted to find people who were new to the brand too: non-auto people who would come to this opportunity and be completely ‘wowed’ by it. Bloggers who would have audiences of average consumers that Ford wouldn’t normally reach with this event.

Q. How did you see these new bloggers fitting in with Ford?

At the time, Ford had four ‘pillars’ at the core of the company:

  1. Quality
  2. Green
  3. Safe
  4. Smart

So, I thought, ‘why don’t we find bloggers that fit into those pillars?’

  1. Quality = We can define that in a number of ways, like design, architecture, fashion and tech. So it made sense to invite bloggers from each of those subject areas.
  2. Green = Sustainability bloggers
  3. Safe = Family (Mom and Dad) bloggers
  4. Smart = Tech bloggers

Q. How did it go?

In the first year, we brought in a dozen folks [to the Media Drive] and it worked exactly as we thought it would.

We needed to reach people who we didn’t normally reach, and we needed to be comfortable letting other people tell our story in an authentic way.

Those people were overjoyed to be there and told their own version of what happened. Having them recall the event through their own lens was important.

Q. Why wouldn’t you provide them with key messages to include?

People appreciate the authenticity that the influencer brings because they feel like they know them in and out.

If people hear that influencer talking and it doesn’t feel authentic – they get the feeling that the person has sold out and then the campaign doesn’t fly.

People can see through that a mile away.

Q. What about the Ford Fiesta Movement Campaign- how did that begin?

We had started thinking about 2009 and the launch of the Ford Fiesta.

It was the first car rolling out under the ‘One Ford Plan’ which was developed under the new CEO, Alan Mulally, who had previously been at Boeing.

When he came on board, he brought principles with him that got everyone working together. Essentially, the idea was that given that we are a single company, driving toward the same purpose, we should be on the same page. Why have design and engineering just for Asia, or Europe or the US? We should have a global team and benefit from everyone else’s team. If we launch a new car, we should all have the same model.

But because of the long development process with cars, the Fiesta was already underway to be produced before the One Ford Plan was solidified. European versions of the car were going to be available a year in advance of the US versions.

In order to smooth the transition, we thought, ‘Why not make Euro models available to people in the States [concurrently with the European release]?’

We would have 100 influencers selected from a pool of applications, who would be able to get the Euro model for six months, with gas and insurance included. All they had to do was produce one video each month for us, under a certain theme, for example, the first month may have been entertainment, the second charity, and so forth. We took those videos and featured them on a Ford website.

Q. How did you choose the influencers?

We encouraged influencers from Twitter and YouTube, (the social space was different then) to apply. But in selecting them, we knew we had to get a good cross-section of the population, not just the gearheads.

Ultimately, these 100 people had to be individuals that the general public could identify with. It was important for them to see ‘someone like me’ who they could trust.

In selecting them, we also cross-referenced where the influencer lived in the US so we could have a physical representation of the car across the lower 48 states.

It was really interesting to strike that balance between geography and ethnography to find the right people.

Q. Do you think influencers are ever hesitant to attach their name to a brand?

Most influencers are in the influence game because they like some level of fame.

A lot of these people build an audience so they can bring in brands, and the savvy ones know what brands match with their sensibilities and audience. Immediately you’re appealing to their egos by putting them in the spotlight and having Ford point to their content.

However, it has to be a good fit. You can’t just take the check and figure it out. We would encourage influencers to come to us with a program they developed so it’s authentic and fits with their sensibilities.

The other thing we knew about influencers was that these people are creators. They create content: photos, videos, blog content etc., regardless of what our ask is. We knew they’d be content machines for us, but in their own voice and style.

When we featured their content, we did it uncensored. Whatever they wanted to say about the car, that was their experience and we weren’t going to touch it, because as soon as we did, we would ‘poison the well.’ We wanted the campaign to be authentic.

Q. Did you get negative content from influencers as a result?

There were maybe one or two negative things that got posted.

But we learned that these American drivers had some interesting feedback about this European car, from the way the seats adjusted to the size of the cup holders.

We encouraged the feedback to see what they were running into and fed that back to the product team who then took it to the designers and engineers.

In some cases these changes were able to be made before official US production started.

Doing a feedback loop and letting the influencers know that Ford’s team had received and incorporated their ideas into the vehicle made them feel like they had ownership.

Q. Letting go of the ‘reins’ can be scary for some companies. How do you think a corporation can start to adopt these practices without being afraid of the result?

A lot of the resistance is tied to a risk of the unknown. People in the company don’t understand influencer marketing fully. It’s common to see that there’s doubt internally from the employees, but once they see some success, they began to see that there is something to this.

In order to make changes, two things need to be in place.

One has to be a culture that leadership makes very clear that it’s okay to fail and it’s absolutely essential to experiment. Leaders have to give you the latitude to take some risks.

I used to meet often with Ford’s legal department and get really frustrated until one meeting where I said, “I feel like you always put the ‘no’ in innovation,’ and that disarmed them for a little bit. It made way for a conversation that’s more collaborative in nature. I had to be clear that I understood that they want to protect the company from risk. In a respectful way, I also needed to communicate that there are things that can be done, that don’t pose the kind of risk that the legal department is worried about.

Having leadership support is really important first and foremost.

Secondly, you need to empower employees at the decision making level. Maybe with an experimentation fund or to allow them to do something they’ve never done before. People should be encouraged to come back with zany ideas and also have a measurement plan in place to see what moved the needle.

Employees can be so enamored with what it is the company is producing and the story they tell everyday because they work for the company. The average consumer doesn’t wake up and think about your brand, unless you’re Starbucks, maybe.

If you can get out of that mentality and think about how average consumers think and behave it’s key to turning the tide.

Q. What about ‘other surprises’? Did anything come up that you weren’t expecting?

At the time, the thought was that the Fiesta would appeal to young Millennials because it’s a smaller, more affordable car and made more sense from the economics of driving and impact on environment.

But what we ended up finding is that there was a bimodal curve in customer base.

We didn’t just attract the young Millennial crowd – but a baby boomer crowd, who were looking to get rid of the big houses and live more responsibly because they didn’t have to haul kids around anymore etc.

So on that point, it was pretty interesting.

Q. If you were to do this campaign over again today, what would you do differently?

Now when you think about both of the groups who were drawn to the Ford Fiesta, (Millennials and Baby Boomers) there’s no question this would be a heavy Snapchat execution today because of the audience.

Interestingly the 45-50 demographic was the fastest growing demographic on Snapchat.

At the same time we’d consider Instagram. They’ve recently rolled out 10 video carousels to every user, so you can tell stories from a deeper perspective. Plus, you have the power of Facebook Audience targeting behind Instagram.

Today, it’s harder to break through now than ever on the Internet, so there absolutely has to be a paid media model that would go along with the campaign.

Q. How did you measure your influencer marketing efforts?

We used some vanity metrics, such as ‘likes’ and views and we tied them back to the influencers’ content.

We also offered the audience the option to share their email address with Ford in exchange for an invitation for them to see the car at dealerships.

We collected 132,000 email addresses, which is twice as many as we expected. That populated our database, so when it was time to start talking to people about the Fiesta we knew what mattered to them.

Q. Were there any other lasting effects from the success of the influencer campaign?

As an end result, Ford started expanding the number of bloggers who were invited to media drives – and it grew over the years.

General Motors got wind of what Ford was doing, so the following year, GM brought in 25 bloggers to their media drive, but the joke was on them because we brought in 50…Then we brought in 100 the year after that, until we eventually capped it at 200 bloggers.

We also took 200 similar bloggers to our event on the track in the summer and built the event out as a trends conference about wider things going on in the world, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and the autonomous car.

It was not a Ford messaging heavy conference – and stepping away from being self-centered paid off.

Q. For those who are struggling with influencer marketing, what would be your advice?

Influencer marketing is an area where people struggle because they think of it as a transactional approach. Like, ‘let’s pay someone to come in and say stuff about us.’

To me, the approach isn’t ‘influencer marketing’ – it’s influencer relations.

It’s more of a parallel to what goes on with the media relations department, not marketing. This is because in the media relations department these are communications professionals who follow the beats of the reporters who cover business. They know what kind of stories they’re looking for. They have lunch with them, email them, talk to them – and then when an opportunity comes up they pull the trigger.

If we approached influencer marketing more as influencer relations it wouldn’t be so hard to get the results.

Loved this Article and Want More from Scott Monty?

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