Extreme marketing - this car made just for you
Car companies send researchers into the field to find, catalog and research the myriad species of car buyers.
By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNNMoney.com staff writer
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Greg is a 30-year-old regional manager for Rite-Aid, and he and his wife make about $60,000. They don't have any children, but they plan to soon. Greg shops at The Gap and Target.
Phil, a marketing manager, is a little older than Greg and a little better educated. He and his wife pull in $85,000. Phil buys his clothes at Banana Republic and drinks Samuel Adams beer.
When Ford unveils the redesigned Escape in Los Angeles next month, think of Greg - Ford designed it just for him.
When you see a Ford Edge, a new car-like crossover SUV, that's Phil's car. Everything about the Edge was made specifically with Phil in mind.
America is filled with Phils and Gregs - and also Mikes, Ricks, Jennifers and Kellys.
Ford has a car designed specifically for each of them.
It's not unusual for a car company to design cars and trucks with specific demographic groups in mind. A new SUV might be targeted at men between the ages of 25 and 35 with a household income of $70,000 and an interest in outdoor sports, for example.
Companies also engage in field research, riding around with potential customers in their cars. (This work is usually done by outside research firms with staff trained in anthropology.)
For example, when researchers employed by DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler Group rode around with young people, they noticed a tendency to park the car, open the doors and blast the stereo while drinking cold beverages.
That's why the new Dodge Caliber offers speakers that fold down from the open tailgate and a chilled beverage holder above the glove compartment, said Wayne R. McCullough, director of corporate research for Chrysler Group.
Some companies, like Ford, take all this one step further, creating a composite person - complete with a name, a job, clothing and design preferences, even tastes in food.
For example, using tens of thousands of customer surveys, Ford honed in on the people it thought might be interested in a vehicle like the Ford Edge. Ford narrowed down its target customer to an educated urban professional with tastes that were slightly avant-garde but not too much so. They named this person Phil.
"With the initial vehicle conception we had Phil's needs in mind," said Sonia Shrank, Ford's manager of brand DNA.
Someone like Phil wouldn't have a big family, so two rows of seats would do. He's no outdoorsman and doesn't try to act like one, so a less truck-ish look would be good, too.
Beyond that, though, designers needed more information about Phil's likes and dislikes. So, researchers took a sample group of Phils from around the country and started following them everywhere.
Roughly two-dozen "Phils" received some moderate financial compensation for allowing themselves to be openly stalked. (Not all the "Phils" were men, by the way. Ford is expecting a 50-50 gender split among Edge buyers.)
They were followed in their homes, cars, offices and on shopping trips by researchers carrying note pads and video cameras. Their tastes in clothes, home furnishings, even beer, were noted. Everything they did with their cars, or wanted to do but couldn't, was noted and studied.
Features like the panoramic sunroof, back seats that fold using a a button near the tailgate and a center console bin big enough to hold a laptop were suggested, tested, designed and retested with different representative sets of Phils.
"You won't see wood trim in an Edge," said Shrank. It's not something Phil would like.
Of course, Ford can't just sell cars to people who precisely match the composite they were designed for. "It's about keying in on a core group," said Shrank, "and others will follow"
Reading the descriptions of each vehicle's core customer you might start to notice they each seem very admirable.
Phil isn't depicted as an effete snob driven by insecurity - he is "dynamic, engaged in life and on the go."
Greg isn't a frustrated middle manager given to juvenile expressions of rage - he is "moving forward by seeking new experiences and then bringing others along."
These composite people also represent the aspirations of potential buyers. If you find the Ford Edge attractive, it might be because even though you're not Phil, you'd like to be Phil.
Meet four Ford SUVs and the composite personalities they were created for. Photo Gallery: SUVs with personality
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