Mastering Marketing: Sell the Faster Horse, not the Car

Henry Ford was one of the most successful and influential businessmen of all time. He founded Ford Motor Company in 1903 and popularized the use of the production line. Those Ford cars and trucks you see on the road? Those are all long term results of his work.

Ford worked on the original engineering designs of his company’s motors — he was a master engineer, that part is well known. But perhaps the most overlooked quality that led to his success were his skills as a product manager and marketer.

Being the founder, part of Ford’s job was to grow the company as fast as possible. That meant he needed to get the product right and in front of as many people as he could. He had to build his brand and then sell it.

The real meaning of branding

Many founders, unfortunately, go about brand marketing in a totally wrong way. They’ll design and market their product around what they think is best, rather than what the market is looking to buy. They never look beyond the surface.

Does Starbucks make the best coffee? Maybe, it depends on who you ask. But their brand is everywhere. It’s the coffee cup you’ll see in the hands of the actor or actress when the directors want them to look “high status”. Are Macbooks the best laptops? Again, it depends on who you ask. But there’s always a certain “image”, a connotation that sticks to you like glue when you’re seen with one: this person’s got it going on.

Marketing your brand is all about finding out what your customer wants, and then showing them that your product is that. You want people to come to the realization that when they buy your product, it means something important. Just like when you’ve got your Starbucks and Macbook, it means something to people: this person’s got it going on. That’s a much deeper sell than just a shallow product.

Sell what it means to own your brand

When Ford made his first car model, he went all around town trying to sell it with no luck whatsoever. It didn’t make sense to him at all. He was a brilliant engineer and his new car was efficient and sturdy. He pondered and pondered as to what could be going wrong.

His saving grace was the realization that people didn’t want a car, they wanted a faster, more comfortable method of transportation — a faster horse (horses being the primary method of transportation back then). Similar to buying a Starbucks coffee or a Macbook, you’re not just buying a coffee or a laptop, you’re buying a status symbol.

Ford then redesigned the car so it was faster and sexier than ever, and entered an automobile race in his home town. With the big crowds and exciting atmosphere, it was the perfect setting to sell. His car not only won the race but the hearts and emotions of the spectators who were going to be doing the buying.

Having the best product is great since you’re offering the best value to people. But none of it matters if it doesn’t appeal to your market. Chances are, your idea isn’t completely unique. If there’s not already someone out there doing, the copy cats will surely be hot on your heals once they see your product.

Set yourself apart by appealing to what your market really wants deep down. Get to the bottom root of what they’re buying. It’s not just the product, they’re buying what it means to own that product, what it means to own your brand.


If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses

— Henry Ford

Recommended Reading

Henry Ford: My Life and Work by Henry Ford

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