How Lincoln Returned From The Brink Of Death And Put Ford Back On The Luxury Map

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'Smell their breath'

The return from the brink started with getting to know customers.

"The conversation I remember the most is Jim Farley telling me that you have to get close enough to the customer to smell their breath," Parker said. "He was saying that figuratively, but it crystallized the challenge that was ahead of us. We had to understand what the customers think and what they want."

To do that, Lincoln got intimate with its would-be buyers.

After it would bring in a focus group to view a new ad or product, it would ask members of the group if they would agree to follow-up interviews in their homes.

The mission?

"Find out whether they drink 2 percent milk or almond milk," Parker said. "Potato chips or kale chips. Do they have an Alexa or a Google Home? How are they living? We even get down to their closets."

The home tours gave Lincoln valuable information to craft certain unique experiences, such as pickup and delivery, chauffeur services or at-home test drives. It also showed them where to reach potential buyers with ads.

"That really shows you where their passion points lie," Parker said. "If I know that it's fitness or eating right, that gives me a better ability to spend my marketing dollars to reach you, as opposed to showing an ad on 'Monday Night Football' or '60 Minutes' because the numbers are there. I can go specifically to a channel and find you."

As an extension of the marketing team's home visits, Lincoln instituted an "ambassador program" at dealerships to help employees develop better relationships with customers.

"We wanted someone in the dealership to wake up every day thinking about and studying those customers," Parker said. "They had to be developing relationships with them."

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