With innovative programs such as the Fiesta Movement and, most recently, a highly successful campaign for the new Explorer SUV aimed at female baby boomers, Ford’s social-media magic is setting the pace not only for the rest of the auto industry but for brand marketing across the digital space.
The Connecticut native earned master’s degrees in medical science and business administration concurrently at Boston University and spent a number of years with PJA Advertising + Marketing, a boutique B2B agency specializing in health sciences and high-tech. He stayed in the Boston area with Crayon, a strategic consultancy in the infant arena of social media, before joining Ford to head up social media (his title, technically, is Digital & Multimedia Communications Manager) in July 2008.
Besides exulting in the huge number of golf courses in his new home state of Michigan, Monty is figuring out how to keep Ford ahead in the social-media game as its rivals attempt furiously to catch up. He also continues as an active thought leader in the genre on his personal blog as well as, just for fun, the Sherlock Holmes fan site, The Baker Street Blog.
These continued involvements underscore that Monty isn’t an unconditional champion of Twitter and Facebook. He’s concerned about “long form” social media as well. Monty argued in a recent post that marketers “need to cater to the attention-starved while still supporting more in-depth content that conveys a deeper meaning with more context.”
And in a previous post, Monty bemoaned a passage in a Fast Company article on Facebook in which founder Mark Zuckerberg said high school students were telling him it was “too much trouble to think of a subject and compose a formal message.”
Monty’s take? “Too much trouble to think of even a subject line? I weep for the future.”
Brandchannel caught up with the 40-year-old Monty between bytes. Here’s what he had to say
How did you first engage the idea that social media might become important?
I was [at PJA and] trying to make sense of it, suddenly seeing a rise in the mention of a term called “blogging.” So I started my own blog, as a thought starter, and bounced ideas around to clients. B2B usually trails traditional B2C marketing by 18 months to two years. So I was actually three to four years ahead of my time at that agency. That’s why I left there and went to [Crayon].
Alan was transforming the company and setting up a new culture. And we’ve approached social media at Ford in a unique way. Look at the heritage of Ford Motor Company – the [family] name is still on the logo today, and Henry Ford was identified as the face of Ford Motor Company for many years. We take the same one-on-one approach with our social-media effort.
How has Ford assumed social-media leadership in the auto industry?
We did something that was completely right for Ford. We wanted to shake things up and do things differently, and in a way consistent with our beliefs. And it happened when the entire automotive industry was in upheaval. We were able to separate ourselves from what else was going on.
It was almost like a double jolt for us. We were under the spotlight because of what was happening in the industry, and while the spotlight was on us, we had some things to talk about. It was almost like a turbo boost.
A key part of it, too, is product development. I don’t care how clever you are as marketer: If there is no product to back up your story, you have to cash it in.
I understand how social-media campaigns work well with Millennials, like Fiesta Movement. But how have you been able to achieve such success in the 2011 campaign for Explorer?
Obviously we started early on Facebook, knowing it’s one of the biggest platforms right now. The fastest-growing demographic on Facebook has been women over 55 years old. So we knew we could target the [Explorer] message on there. We started early and gave these fans a heads up that something special was in store for them if they came along for the ride. And we’ve given them photos and videos and interviews with the Explorer team and a chance to ask questions and stay engaged with them. We have people on that page every day who are answering questions and engaging with those fans.
How can someone follow in your footsteps?
I wish it were simple enough to describe. But fundamentally it’s about understanding business strategy first and foremost, and what it takes to be a good communicator these days. The specific technical platform is of less concern. We need people with a good business head about them. Otherwise, we’d be staffing up with only a bunch of interns. We can teach the technology. It’s the people immersed in business and branding – and that takes time – who are the real valuable assets for us.
So how do you get ahead of whatever the “next big thing” is?
If I knew that, I’d be a venture capitalist. Part of it is fundamentally understanding human nature – what makes people tick, what sorts of things the average person would do given an opportunity to do it. The other thing is to look at technological and sociological trends. What’s going on with Facebook right now, one reason it’s doing so well, is that it’s a simple interface allowing people to connect with others they want to connect with.
And what might be the next big thing in your space?
It will be a battle over privacy. Facebook has really pushed the boundaries on privacy, and a lot of people are retreating from that. But you also look at a lot of people who don’t fully understand the privacy implications of Facebook and themselves are getting sucked into it.
So the next battle is about the personalization of communications, especially one-to-one communications.
Does that mean a bit of a retreat for social media?
I think so, in some ways. For instance, I think social media is ultimately local. So while if you’re in America you can tweet with someone in Japan about the earthquake, what matters is who you are close to and live with. And if we can provide experiences for people in the community and city and region where they live, and couple them with social media, then we’ve got a win.