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Ford Motor Company Implementing An ‘Experience-Led Development’ Philosophy

We’re all familiar in some way or another with the age-old concept of the “focus group.” For decades, the primary tools in the marketing researcher’s bag have been along the same, narrow lines: surveys, questionnaires, and voluntary customer feedback.

Now, Ford Motor Company is trying to add a new tool to the arsenal – something the automaker refers to as “experience-led development.” With that, Ford Motor Co. has added ethnographic research to the mix, observing how their products fit into the lives of their customers in a given market, and using those observations to suss out how the automaker can better fit that market’s needs.

Ford Motor Company CEO Mark Fields discussed the idea of ethnographic research with Automotive News in a recent interview, explaining that the automaker “actually [has] Ford researchers and folks going out, living with people for a time, videoing them and seeing how they live their lives. The beauty of it is not only does it help you focus on an experience, but it also, rapidly at early stages of a program, allows you to eliminate certain features that really aren’t relevant to a consumer.”

Ford Motor Company’s partner in this experience-led development effort and ethnographic research is a social science-based consultancy from Denmark called ReD Associates. Together, Ford Motor Company and ReD Associates have invested more than 4,000 hours in nearly 30 cities around the globe, taking nearly 3,000 hours of video, 80,000 photographs, and in excess of 8,000 pages of field notes.

Explains ReD Associates Founder Christian Madsbjerg: “For 70 years, market research has been done by asking people for their opinion. But… Henry Ford used to say, ‘If I asked people what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse.’ I chose to work with Ford because this approach is in their DNA and is setting the company at the forefront of this advanced and bold process, which is redefining market research and silo-busting the way the company operates.”

Aaron Brzozowski is a writer and motoring enthusiast from Detroit with an affinity for '80s German steel. He is not active on the Twitter these days, but you may send him a courier pigeon.

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