Start the Celebration at Ford?

In May of this year, Ford officially launched the 2011 Fiesta small car. Fiesta has been an interesting case study because more than year in advance of its launch Ford engaged target prospects in a digital media effort across social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in an effort that went viral well in advance of the first vehicle rolling off the assembly line. Fiesta is an important launch for Ford as it provides a much needed appealing small car to compete with key segment rivals Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit and Nissan Versa. So how’s the launch going? Using Compete shopper data we looked at the early performance of Fiesta and how it’s stacking up against those key rivals.

Compete’s proprietary measure of new vehicle demand is derived from observing online shopping activity on 3rd party auto web sites such as kbb.com and edmunds.com. From that, we quantify how many people shopped a particular vehicle as well as what other vehicles they shopped. We also assessed interaction with leading social media sites. Results show Fiesta is off to a hot start.

Since its launch in May, Fiesta demand has stormed past its competition, trending near 60,000 shoppers. It’s even ahead of Versa, Fit and Yaris August ’09 levels from the final month of the government’s Cash for Clunkers program (that program incentivized prospects to purchase more fuel efficient models and helped drive small car demand). Fiesta demand had been on the rise since January, when we first began tracking its shopping activity, and well before its May launch*. The fact that Fiesta enjoyed 15,000 to 20,000 shoppers per month that far in advance is no doubt the product of Ford’s social media efforts during the pre-launch period and as such becomes one benchmark for measuring the impact of social media on vehicle launches.

To further assess the success of social media on the Fiesta launch, Compete measured overlap between the Fiesta page on the Ford site and social media sites before and during the launch. Again success: Compared to OEM site visitors in general, consumers who visited the Fiesta page on fordvehicles.com were more likely to have visited social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Overlap with Twitter was especially strong as Fiesta visitors were up to 60% more likely to that site than were auto site visitors in general. Approximately one-third of Fiesta visitors used Twitter in a given month prior to and during the launch. And while Facebook overlap was lowest among the three social media sites, let’s remember that it has become somewhat ubiquitous nowadays: Market-wide, nearly 90% of auto prospects visit Facebook. Despite the 90%, Fiesta page visitors still over-indexed.

To confirm that consumers are grasping where the Fiesta fits within the Ford portfolio, Compete detailed what other models Fiesta shoppers also considered. Ford wants the new Fiesta to be competitive with the best the imports have to offer (including other “B-Segment” vehicles like Yaris, Fit and Versa) but is also looking for consumers likely to add more optional content than the usual segment buyer. Again success: Fiesta is not only being shopped against import “B-segment” rivals but larger “C-segment” vehicles as well. Not surprisingly Focus was the model most cross-shopped by in-market Fiesta shoppers; within-brand cross-shopping is not uncommon. But the remainder of the top 10 is comprised of imports, including Versa and Fit as well as Civic and Elantra. Even the new Sonata sneaks into the mix. Importantly, however, the data show that Fiesta is on the radar of import prospects, something that should make Ford very happy.

On all three measures, the 2011 Ford Fiesta has come out of the gate strong. It has attracted more shoppers than its key rivals and they appear to be types of prospects Ford set out to reach — youthful, import-oriented and social media savvy. Ford did a great job priming the pump with its pre-launch efforts, not only building a base of interested prospects but reaching them with digital communications on the sites they visit and targeting them with relevant product messages. When the vehicle finally launched in May, everything was set up for success. While Ford has had to delay vehicle shipments which has put a crimp on early Fiesta sales, interest has remained robust and prospects continue to eagerly await the vehicle’s arrival at dealerships. With what looks to be a solid product combined with marketing efforts that are moving the needle, Ford looks to have a winner on its hands. If its success continues, rivals are sure to emulate Ford’s tactics, though Fiesta has set a high bar.

And just around the corner will be Ford’s launch of the next generation Focus”¦

* See Compete’s recent analysis Cloudy With A Chance Of Sales on why shopper volumes and sales volumes do not always track in tandem.

About Dennis Bulgarelli:
Dennis Bulgarelli is a Client Services Director at Compete. At Compete Dennis is responsible for advising auto clients on trends in consumer online shopping behavior. Before Dennis joined the Compete team he did research and planning at most of the large ad agencies. Dennis hopes to one day, drive cross- country on the blue highways. Follow Dennis on Twitter @dennisbul or connect with him on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/dennisbulgarelli.