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Edsel Turns 50! (Understanding the Customer)

June 9th, 2008 · 2 Comments

 Edsel 50 (c) 2008 Anderson Analytics, LLC

50 Years after the Edsel, marketers still often fail to understand the customer

My recent post about the lack of quality/service and dismissal of my complaint at the local BMW dealership seemed to draw a lot of attention. Unfortunately I think it’s easy even for us in the marketing profession to forget to listen to our customers. They are saying things to us all the time, not just when we ask them in surveys and focus groups, but also on the web (in discussion forums and blogs),to our call centers, and in emails.

That’s why this week Anderson Analytics will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Edsel. Our clients will be receiving postcards in order to help remind us all that when we stop listening to the customer, things can go terribly wrong.

In case you’ve forgotten, the Edsel was one of the most spectacular marketing failures of all time. Consumers were not receptive to the new car, despite Ford’s tremendous marketing efforts including an increased network of dealerships, creative teaser ads, and exclusive TV shows. Ford invested $400 million in the development of the Edsel, in the end, the company lost well over $350 million on the venture.

Some attribute the car’s failure to its unattractive styling. Edsel’s trademark “horse collar” grille was not in synch with the trending of consumer preference.

Part of its failure was due to confusing pricing segmentation. Consumers had a hard time understanding where the Edsel was positioned among Ford’s other models. Edsel was not priced, marketed, and perceived as a unique car; rather, it cannibalized Ford’s other offerings.

In addition, the changing economic condition and the shifting landscape of the automobile market at the time worked against the introduction of Edsel.

In the end it can all be attributed to Ford’s failure to listen to and understand the consumer.

Today there is little excuse not to listen to your customers. Online research has brought down costs and enabled faster turn around for both quantitative and qualitative research. RSS and Web/Screen scraping tools together with text and data mining allows us to process thousands of comments from the web or call center logs quickly and accurately.

- Tom

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Tags: Anderson Analytics · CRM · Customer Satisfaction · Market Research · Marketing · PR · Price · Promotion · Tom H. C. Anderson · quality

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Duncan Stuart // Aug 20, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    Yet the Edsel was one of the most researched new launches in history. They employed unparalleled budgets for qual and quant studies - many of which were innovative and quite sophisticated. So it isn’t quite true to say that Ford never listened to the customer. They listened all right, and either they asked the wrong questions, or the public answered the questions without being given opportunity to really offer their actual sentiment. They agreed to point x, point y and point z - but they were enver asked, as a whole, what they thought of that pug ugly vehicle.

    Ford’s designers, incidentally, were briefed to come up with a design that could be recognised from a whole block away. They were right on the money.

    The horse collar grill of course has since been employed by Audi on their most recent range of vehicles. And it still looks ugly, 50 years later.

  • 2 Tom H C Anderson // Aug 21, 2010 at 9:41 am

    Thanks Duncan,

    We had other posts here, but they were deleted when we upgraded out blob platform 2 years ago.

    Anyway, if I Recall correctly thre were some personal emotional investments tied to Edsel as well. So its not surprising that if objective of research would be to prove3 success that it did.

    What’s sad Is that research is so often done only to give the nod to an idea which has already been approved. Politics were involved as usual, and in 1960’s there would have been far less likely to be many nay sayers around (Hofstedes Power Distance would have been much more powerful in the 60’s than it is in today’s America).

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