CMO Q&A: Nissan's Roel de Vries

Nissan's head of marketing tells Diana Bradley his stance on autonomous cars, auto shows, and integrating advertising and PR.

You have been with Nissan since 1994. How has the marketing strategy evolved?
The biggest change is our goal for globalization and integration. When I joined it was very local. Each country had its own marketing initiatives and activities. There was very little integration and coordination from a marketing point of view.

We are now much more global. You need to be far more consistent. Of course, you still have a unique element to what you do in different markets, but everything is much more integrated and consistent.

What’s your outlook for Nissan?
We are in established markets such as the U.S., Europe, Japan, and China. But we are also in a good position in terms of a footprint in countries such as India, Brazil, and Indonesia. So, at the moment, it is about strengthening the brand and maximizing the position we have in these different markets.

From a marketing point of view, we are on a strong drive to utilize some of our strengths in terms of electric vehicles, autonomous driving, and connectivity — things that are topical and important in today’s environment. We are working hard to claim that as an area of differentiation to make the Nissan brand stand out.

What is the biggest challenge for your company and for you as CMO?
It’s to move fast in terms of digitization, and creating a truly integrated customer experience where, from a customer point of view, there is a seamless connection between the experiences in the car, at the dealership, on the website, and on our social media apps. We cover so many elements of car ownership that we need to integrate them all, which has many challenges.

What major PR or marketing campaign are you focused on?
We are working on the launch of the new Leaf, which is an electric car. We have introduced Nissan intelligence mobility, which is a combination of intelligent driving. This is a car that can drive itself, but it also includes a lot of technical innovations that help you drive better.

We are focusing on electric and looking at new ways of creating hybrid tech. We are also focused on the world of connectivity.

The 2017 Nissan Serena minivan is the first Japanese car with autonomous driving. What is the biggest challenge about explaining autonomous driving?
The biggest opportunity is making people realize it makes driving more exciting and fun. A lot of coverage says it would take away the joy or control when you drive. The reality is quite different.

The exciting part is you have a choice. When you drive on a busy highway and it is stop and start, this tech will allow you to relax because the vehicle will keep the right distance between the car in front of you, and you will stay in the lane. When you get to an open road, you can choose to turn the tech off and drive yourself.

Nissan recently appointed Edelman as its first global PR AOR. Can you provide an update about what they are working on, along with Omnicom Group’s Nissan United agency team?
Edelman is working on all elements of the PR mix: corporate, product, and internal comms. Real power comes if you create a group of agencies and people that can truly work together and utilize their expertise in certain fields as part of the bigger mix.

The days where we did independent advertising or PR are behind us. Where PR and advertising starts and the impact on your creative — or how much you do to support your PR with media and vice versa — has become such an integrated activity. It is complicated because for many years we created silos within our organization between agencies.

What is your approach to auto shows?
Auto shows used to be the only moment we would communicate about new cars. But it has changed. In the past, the first day of the show created 90% of your [marketing] activities.

If you approach it in that way now, it is hard to benefit. But if you use your show as a moment in time and start building up before the show, create stories around what you are going to do, talk not only about products, but also about tech and what you are going to do as a brand, auto shows can still be powerful.

How many people handle marketing and comms at Nissan?
It’s about 1,600 people globally, including agency employees.

What is your golden rule of marketing?
Although technology has evolved, the base principle of marketing has not changed. You need to understand what drives your consumer and how you can connect what drives your consumer with your brand. Sometimes we forget what marketing is about. Technology doesn’t change that.

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