I recently spent several jam-packed, couldn’t be more fun days in Dearborn, MI as the guest of Ford Motor Company at their annual Trend Conference. I’ll talk more in the future about what I saw and learned at Ford, but for now–here is the review that I did for ShePosts.com, the site that “covers the dynamic industry of women’s online publishing. We report on the trends and leaders in our field, and we serve an evolving community of digital entrepreneurs and influential content creators and curators.” If you haven’t visited ShePosts, do so now–after you’ve read (and commented) on this.
As social media has become more established as a method of marketing, brands have become better at using it. However, of all the other car manufacturers, domestic or foreign, Ford Motor Company seems to have the best handle on the more subtle uses of social media. They understand that it’s a dialogue, not a lecture, a place to build relationships, not merely to market. To that end, the last week in June, they brought a group who are adept users of social media–the so-called “influencers”–to Dearborn for their annual Go Further with Ford Trend Conference. They certainly know how to put on a party and in so doing, they certainly know how to promulgate their message in the most effective way.
Journalists, bloggers, writers, and editors, 250 of us in all, s arrived from all over the country on June 26
and after checking in at the Dearborn Hyatt Hotel, climbed aboard air-conditioned, wifi and electrical outlet-equiped buses for a drive to the Ford Stadium, home of the Detroit Lions.
There began the first of the incredible catered meals–no rubber chicken here–that were provided for us throughout the conference.
If you happened to be on Twitter that evening and followed #GoFurther, you probably saw the range of tweets that were coming out of the event.
Bill Ford, great great grandson of Henry, was the keynote speaker the first evening. He talked of the heritage that the family patriarch had set out for Ford, both as a family and a company, to follow. Bill, now the executive chairman of Ford Motor Company, recalled that he was warned when he first took up a position in the family firm not to associate environmentalists, who were seen as ‘the enemy.’ As a a lifelong environmentalist, that was impossible to follow and he took comfort in the fact that his great grandfather had faced similar warnings and criticism: Henry Ford was accused of being a socialist because his goal was to enable the masses to enjoy the open road. What Bill Ford brought back to the company was a commitment to developing products that would benefit customers, shareholders and society.
That ethos was evident in all we learned over the next couple of days. After breakfast and welcome remarks the next morning from Sheryl Connelly, the VIP of Ford’s Global Consumer Trends & Futuring and Ford Event Manager Marisa Bradley, we were spit into four groups so that we could experience each of the Trend Sessions that were offered. Each session consisted of panel discussions with experts in the related fields, as well as an opportunity to interact with the engineers and products that were being discussed in each session. Ford was wise to provide hashtags in advance, so you can check out the Twitter streams for each of the sessions yourself: #GoFurtherEco, #GoFurtherUrban, #GoFurtherTech, and #GoFurtherDesign.
In Age of Accessible Design
and Going Beyond the Physical, we got to see, feel and touch the lifesize clay models that are part of the design process as well as experience the virtual tools that Ford designers use to create not only the cars but the assembly line mechanics that go into making them. The Streamline & Symplify session introduced us to the now and future of Ford’s connectivities technologies, including spoken commands and the ability to manipulate the vehicle through voice activation. The Eco-Psychology session used the Butterfly Effect theory to explain how even the smallest of innovations can lead to big sustainability.
For example, they’re concentrating on developing materials that will lightweight their vehicles for better fuel efficiency and using sustainable materials such as soybean-based foam instead of petroleum products. The Urbanization session introduced us to current research which posits that the age of surburbia is over as more and more cities are becoming the focus for living. Ford is working to create Blueprints for Mobility, which include technology to ease the hassle of traffic jams and–my personal favorite–ultrasonic sensors that help drivers park in perpendicular spots.
From that jam-packed day, we went to the DIY Dinner Party at TechShop Detroit, where we got to eat and drink and mingle and paticipate in the TechShop experience.
“TechShop is a membership-based workshop that provides members with access to tools and equipment, instruction, and a community of creative and supportive people so they can build the things they have always wanted to make.” Just one of the projects we could do that evening was the “Bologna Sandwich Casting”, which combines laser technology with traditional casting methods to create custom pewter jewelry. The evening ended with an outdoor concert with Ford SYNC Powered by Microsoft.
Then the next morning we were up early again and off to Ford’s Dearborn Development Center where, after breakfast, we spent three hours playing with cars at the Trends at the Track event. It was like being at our private Disneyland and a competition that began on the football field two nights before when we had the chance to kick field goals on the Detroit Lions field was joined again as we went from one event to the next, collecting stamps that made us eligible for the prizes at the end of the day. On the Green Drive, we zipped around in the all-electric 2012 Ford Focus and some of us put the all-wheel-drive 2013 Police Interceptor through its paces.
The Adreneline Road featured a chance to drive the 2013 Mustang and Escape Match Time was a relay race involving the 2013 Ford Escape’s parking and key technologies. The daredevils among us helmeted up and rode shotgun as a professional driver put the 2012 F-150 SVT Raptor up and down, in and around the off-road track.
Finally, the Technology Midway offered the opportunity for some of Ford’s partners–such as Pandora, HD Radio, SiriusXM, and Dragon–to show us how they are contributing to the new Ford experience.
The culmination of the Trends at the Track was the final luncheon–and the awarding of prizes. It was a happy crowd that got back onto the buses for our trips to the airport after two and a half jam-packed days. The “influencers” are now back in their communities where they have the wherewithal to put forth, whether casually or deliberately, the present and future of Ford Motor Company–and that is how social media works best.