Christine Wagner, Ford Australia product marketing manager for emerging opportunities, and co-chair of IPA Campaign Planning Melbourne, reveals how agencies have acted as the brand’s conscience to keep it accountable and adaptable.

TCC: As a client what does the power of purpose mean to you? What do you feel is important for an agency to understand about your brand’s purpose? What difference does this make to the campaigns they produce?

CW: Authenticity is a key tenet of modern marketing. Today’s consumers are far too knowledgeable and discerning to fall for the old smoke and mirrors approach. Hence it becomes really important for agencies to understand the true nature of their client’s business. They need to appreciate the purpose that drives the client organisation’s culture and then capture its essence across all communication touch points.

Ford is on a transformative journey and we want our agencies to not just understand it, but be an active co-collaborator in creating it. To that extent, GTB have been present at every key strategic forum Ford has held over the past five years, including my time as transformation manager.

This has made a significant impact on campaigns. Understanding our business, our customer vision, and our customer as if it were their own has made GTB’s ability to understand our expectations far clearer. As a result they’ve been able to deliver more effectively across a wider spread of our business, for example, in relation to our Service Promise.

TCC: How do you work with agencies to define problems, identify audiences and unearth truths? Can you give an example?

CW: A problem that is well defined, is a problem halved. In Ford’s transformative journey, it was important that the organisation be honest about what was broken and needed fixing. Through its external perspective, the agency can and does act as Ford’s conscience, helping us embrace the hairy issues and holding us accountable to our customer centric vision.

TCC: How important is research to you? How have you changed how you conduct this in the past five years?

CW: In the past research and ongoing tracking was akin to driving a car but looking at the rear view mirror. The research input more often than not illuminated the past not the future. Research now has a more proactive stance, allowing us to take actions before it is too late.

More specifically, the way we segment consumers has evolved. As our quantitative studies now have several years of data we are able to draw deep insights. We are able to understand our consumers relative to other global markets, which is valuable when taking global vehicle programs and creating best fit for our consumers. Equally valuable is the extent to which we are able to draw insights across the various research sources, rather than each in isolation. Lastly, we have made our various databases available to most employees, empowering them to explore hypothesis and potential ideas independently.

TCC: How do you feel ideas have changed in the past five years? How have they had to evolve

CW: Naturally they’ve had to adapt to suit a digital climate. As a result we’ve seen a merging of what was traditionally called Public Affairs and MarComms. There is now a proliferation of brands in auto market, and with that a lack of differentiation between brands, so ideas have become even more important.

TCC: How have you been able to evolve towards an ‘always on’ mentality?

CW: Technology has changed both the way we use media as well as what our customers expect of us. Having an ‘always on’ mindset allows us to use our owned and earned channels in a way that meets customer expectations. Our social channels are not just a means of keeping the Ford brand culturally relevant and topical but also double up as a way to answer and respond to customer needs and concerns. In the transformative culture that is Ford Australia there is no alternative to “always on”.