CMO Q&A: Russell Wager, Mazda

Russell Wager, Mazda, speaks to Lindsay Stein about building the auto brand's image and leveraging analytics to drive decision-making.

CMO Q&A: Russell Wager, Mazda
Russell Wager, Mazda, speaks to Lindsay Stein about building the auto brand's image and leveraging analytics to drive decision-making.

What is Mazda North America's communications and marketing structure?

One year ago, the company made the decision to combine all communications under one position. That's when they brought me in. All of the marketing and communications, from above-the-line, digital, and promotions to PR and experiential, is now under one marcomms group.

Social media falls under my head of digital and customer relationship management. There are teams dedicated to social, the customer relationship management side, and to direct mail.

The PR team ladders up to two people. The director of PR is responsible for promotions and auto shows, and the director of marketing and communications oversees brand research, customer relationship management, digital, and social.

Why do you have that setup?
A lot on the PR side is about trying to get the word out in unique ways as opposed to buying media.

We look at the same things for experiential, promotions, and auto shows, so from our standpoint it works well together.

What is one of your goals going forward?
One big factor where we still have to move the needle is familiarity.

We need to get people more familiar with our vehicles, but we also need to get people to feel Mazda is a very responsible and trustworthy company.

As of right now, relative to the industry, we are not as high as our competitors and that is a perception versus reality issue. That is one of the big issues we need to target.

What are the results so far of the Game Changers initiative, the brand's largest advertising campaign in 13 years?
Since we launched the campaign at the end of April, we measured key performance indicators and used a company called GfK that does a lot of the historical tracking for not only us, but also our competitors, to see how we stand relative to awareness, familiarity, or opinion.

In six months, we've seen our awareness go to an all-time high for the brand and our familiarity has more than doubled. Our opinion has gone up a couple of points. Usually, opinion is one of the slowest-moving measures in GfK's tracking, but they said it is amazing to see it move that quickly.

The last part is intention, which is when people go into the marketplace. We look at 12-month intentions and people get to pick only one brand or model that they're going to buy. Unfortunately we're historically on the low side, but it's gone up in a short period of time and the Mazda6 has contributed to a large part of that growth, as have our other models.

The campaign is our foundation. It's a platform that is going to be with us for a minimum of two to three years, so nothing is going to change anytime soon.

Is your target demographic changing?
You have probably heard people talk about our alternative-to-premium positioning.The brand is growing, but we are not moving away from our youthful image and the fact that we have the second-youngest median age in the industry.

We are just adding more buyers and expanding. The Mazda6 is helping us get to where we want to be. Our CX-5 model is doing wonders for us, and the CX-9 still has one of the highest loyalty rates of any of our models.

What has been your greatest accomplishment so far?
We have gotten a mindset here that advertising dollars can help drive sales, as well as improve the brand. It is not just a gut feeling. We have used analytics for making the majority of our decisions from a media mix standpoint and what we're doing on messaging within our communications.

We have developed our own proprietary analytical models. At the end of March, one model was working very well for us. We've built two additional versions since to steer us more toward what's going to help build the brand. We are also now starting to do the models on a local basis so we can see differences as to how we go to market from a media mix [perspective].

For example, imagine our cinema advertising is popular in Los Angeles. The model says that people who see cinema advertising in Los Angeles are more likely to buy your cars. In Washington, DC, the model says you should do a little more out of home because traffic is so heavy there that people spend a lot of time in their cars. So, if there is a way to talk to them in their cars, you should do that. Those are the analytics that help us form everything we do, even down to the local marketing level.

Do the analytics models you use include communications?
We are trying to build models that incorporate the PR element, as well as sponsorship and experiential elements.

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