Internet portal company Yahoo Inc. and Ford Motor Company were expected to announce yesterday that they are partnering to launch a personalization service for Ford vehicle owners on Yahoo Autos.
Under the deal, Ford consumers can register at Yahoo Autos (autos.yahoo.com) or OwnerConnection.com, a service of Ford.com, and set up a personalized Web page. The service will offer access to owners’ manuals, recall notifications, Ford credit account information, service reminders, vehicle maintenance logs and real-time traffic updates in a few unnamed major markets. The initiative will also offer access to message boards and chats with engineers and other Ford executives.
Financial terms of the agreement – which was to be announced at the opening of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit- were not disclosed.
“This is another example of an online [entity] and a traditional manufacturer partnering to do something really unique,” said Anil Singh, chief sales and marketing officer, Yahoo, Santa Clara, CA. “In 2000, it’s going to be an online-offline world.”
Makes covered under the initiative include Ford, Lincoln, Mercury and Mazda. Jaguar and Volvo reportedly will be added at an unspecified date.
Ford claims this is not a step toward selling new autos directly online, and that dealerships shouldn’t feel threatened.
“This is about owner relations,” said Jamie Allison, e-marketing manager, Ford, Dearborn, MI. “When owners get in touch with us it’s about service. And service happens at dealerships. If anything, this is an alliance that’s going to benefit dealers.”
Currently, consumers can buy only used autos from Ford in five test markets, said Ford spokeswoman Carolyn Brown.
“You can shop online, you can check out your vehicle online, you can apply for credit online and you can have that faxed to the dealership, but you are going to have to go to the dealership to close the deal and to take delivery of the vehicle,” she said.
Meanwhile, the initiative underscores how the Internet is making manufacturers more aware of the importance of consumer feedback as a marketing tool.
“The old-economy paradigm was that [the] consumer affairs [department] was a field trip marketers made once every six months to get a superficial glimpse of the 800-number data,” said Pete Blackshaw, president and founder of the recently launched consumer-feedback Web site Planetfeedback.com, Cincinnati.
“Suddenly, consumer affairs is ground zero for gaining marketing insight,” said Blackshaw, formerly with Procter & Gamble.
The deal puts Ford in direct contact with customers at a Web address they’re already visiting. As of September, according to Yahoo’s Singh, the site had over 105 million unique visitors a month, of which over 80 million are registered users.
“If you overlay Ford’s marketshare in the U.S., on top of our audience, there are tens of millions of people who are already Ford vehicle owners who use Yahoo every day,” said Singh.
Planned marketing tactics include banners, sponsorships throughout Yahoo and e-mail. “There will be a lot of traditional, but very targeted types of advertising for various brands,” said Singh.
Though Ford’s deal is not exclusive, Singh wouldn’t reveal whether similar arrangements with other auto manufacturers are expected. “A number of automobile manufacturers are our clients now and I would expect that to continue and grow.”