How an Old Story Can Become New Again

Over at Ford Motor Company, all sorts of great stuff is going on – first and foremost, the car company that started an industry made a profit for the first quarter of 2008. This is good news indeed for Ford, who has seen its revenues slide, and its losses slide further, every year in the 21st century.

Ford is probably the most emblematic American company of the 20th century. Henry Ford created the assembly line, offered profit-sharing to his workers, reduced shift hours to eight (from nine), and turned the US, and the world, into car nuts.

That story – the story of Ford’s dominance in the auto industry – rolled on like thunder, until the sun of the rising Japanese auto industry started casting a shadow over Detroit in the ’70s.

Since then, Japan has risen to dominate the market in every sector but trucks, with Ford and the rest of Detroit struggling to compete.

A story coming out of Dearborn – by way of Vegas – gives some real hope to Ford fans, and investors, in what feels like the nick of time.

James D. Farley, the marketing whiz-kid who put Toyota’s Scion line on the map, who understands that the voice of the customer must be part of the story any company tells – Ford stole him away from Toyota. And he’s determined to make Ford’s story a 21st century success story.

Farley’s dealing with an old-world corporate culture at Ford, and it looks like the new sheriff in town is making some real progress. Ford’s ‘Drive One’ ad campaign was created after Farley spent time with dealers, listening to their passion for Ford’s products – asking people to ‘drive one’, to see what Ford has to offer, is storytelling at its simplest and most effective.

“We needed a transactional campaign where the product speaks for
itself,” said Mr. Farley. “I mean, don’t believe us. Let the product
speak to you.”

That’s a quote from a NY Times piece on Farley, which tells the full story on his Ford story so far. The NYT piece concludes with this:

“What I’m doing at Ford is in one sense a dream come true,” he finally
said. “But it’s also the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Do I feel
comfortable? Absolutely not. Do I try my best? Yes.”

All enterprise, from the behemoth to the basement start-up, needs to look long and hard at the story it’s telling. If the story isn’t working, if it doesn’t reflect reality, if it doesn’t connect with your team and your customers – you need to start telling a better story.

Discovering what that new story needs to be starts within, with what the enterprise is telling itself. Once that story is working, the story you need to tell your customers starts to tell itself.

That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it…


One response to “How an Old Story Can Become New Again

  1. This is a really great example of getting close to the customer and really, really listening. Something often corporate HQ folks don’t do well, if at all. So, good for Farley!
    The sales people and dealers are the closest to the customer without being one. I’ve found the simplest things that customers think/feel are often overlooked.
    I’ve had 2 times in the building of my gig where I finally really listened to my audience and took them where they wanted to go. The first was when I was out speaking, giving workshops, etc based on my book “Bodacious! Career.” At first I was a bit irritated when women kept asking me what does it mean to be bodacious in life, too. Finally, I realized I needed to give ’em what they wanted. I wrote my second book “Bodacious! Woman” and they loved it.
    Then I listened again. I had no clue how many women would love the chapter title “I Want to Live Like My Nail Color.” It took about 2 years for me to understand the reaction wasn’t a passing thing. I’ve just spent the last 9 months giving 45 talks around the country on — yep, “Live Like Your Nail Color, Even If You Have Naked Nails!”
    By way of customer survey I was able to identify 3 main things women want from me — sanity, confidence and fun. These women are geniuses, if I will only keep asking and paying attention!

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