The time is now for the car industry to make its products relevant to consumers again, the global head of marketing at Nissan says.
Admitting that the Japanese brand is perceived globally as “a little bit grey”, Nissan global head of marketing and brand strategy Roel de Vries has told CarAdvice that the automotive industry as a whole has a chance to become relevant again, particularly to young people.
“I think for the last 15 to 20 years we lost a lot of that relevance to electronics especially [phones, computers, etc.], and I think we have a chance to get back,” de Vries said.
“Product is always exciting, but other than product, it’s the attitude or the behaviour that you have as a brand.”
Using Swiss watches as an example, de Vries said he believes strong brands have an emotional connection more than a rational one.
“If you ask somebody, ‘Why do you like a Tag Heuer watch?’, you might get things [like] 'because it’s good quality' or 'because of the design'. But it’s probably, 'I just like Tag Hauer'. And we need to develop that more and that you don’t only do by cars, that you do by the way that you advertise and the way you behave.
“I think watches are a good example because all these watches come from Switzerland and, in my view, are all very similar – I mean nobody knows anything about what goes on inside these things.
“What they [the brands] play around with is this attitude of desire.
“I mean Rolex is for established and mature and Tag is for young and energetic. So they really create those brands and everything around it, the things that they sponsor and the way they communicate and of course, the way they design their watches.”
Quick to point out that other companies around the world have done the same, de Vries highlights Austrian energy drink giant Red Bull.
“I think the extreme is Red Bull,” de Vries said.
“I never take Red Bull as an example because it’s almost too easy but nevertheless, they created a whole attitude about a soft drink.
“I think what for us [Nissan] is very important is that we really start creating a much stronger emotional connection between consumers and the brand.
“We want to be a more exciting brand, [we] want to do things in a different way and we sometimes get it right, we sometimes get it wrong.”
Stressing that in Nissan’s past, both overseas and in Australia, the brand became too rational and focused on price, features and sales, the marketing head said, “I think we had it wrong”.
“We need to make it much more emotive, much closer to our customers and more exciting.
“If you look at all the brand research we do all over the world, we have – like all brands – positives and negatives. But in general, we don’t have many peaks either up or down.
“We’re not really standing up in something and we’re not really seen as negative for something either, so we are a little bit grey.”
Defending being “grey” as “not a bad thing”, de Vries said it’s a better position to be in than being perceived as either low-quality or boring.
“It’s very tough to change [being perceived as either of those two].
“So we don’t have any of that,” de Vries said.
“But what we miss everywhere [is] that people don’t really have a close relationship with us – they don’t really understand who is that brand, what do you do.”
After analysing where key competitors stand – de Vries including Honda, Toyota, Ford, Peugeot, Renault and Chrysler in the main volume group – the Netherlands-born corporate vice president came to the conclusion that most don’t have any “big emotional connection”.
“So then we felt that that’s probably the area where we can go. That’s also close to our DNA…”
“We have a little bit of that maverick thing, we just need to make sure that all of our behaviour – whether it’s marketing or PR or whatever we do – it needs to come across.
“Some would say that as a car industry we’ve had it too easy, because we’ve got so much to talk about around the car but I think we need to put away more.
“Cars are becoming more interesting. With autonomous driving, electrification and interactivity and connectivity between cars, cars are becoming pretty cool again. So I think absolutely, this is the time for cars to become relevant again, to start being part of people’s lives…”