Jon Brancheau was named vice president of Nissan marketing at Nissan North America in March. He was new to the brand, but not the company.
Brancheau, 49, has variously served as director of marketing for General Motors' Service and Parts Organization, vice president of marketing for Saab, director of marketing for Cadillac and director of media operations for all of GM. He became director of Infiniti's U.S. marketing communications and media in 2009 and then general manager of Infiniti's global marketing.
Brancheau is taking over the Nissan role as the brand is enjoying a rise in U.S. sales -- up 25 percent for the first seven months of this year -- and preparing to introduce the Leaf electric sedan in December. He spoke with Staff Reporter Lindsay Chappell at Nissan's Franklin, Tenn., headquarters.
You unveiled a new Nissan marketing campaign to dealers in August. What's it all about?
It's not dissimilar to where we were at Infiniti a while back, trying to figure out strategically an intelligent way to consistently express the brand. We have focused on individual models. And we've really done a good job of growing share in some models, like the Altima. But it hasn't laddered up to help halo the Nissan brand. So, strategically, we're headed down a path to come up with a way to express ourselves and the Nissan brand in a consistent method, whether it's in print, on TV or video or digital.
The idea revolves around innovation -- not just innovation as a stand-alone but "innovation for all." When we talk about the positioning for the brand, innovation has always been what the Nissan brand has been about. The core models are a reason to believe that Nissan is an innovative brand. The Leaf, being the first 100 percent electric mass-produced zero-emission vehicle, is the poster child for innovation in the industry today. The Maxima is a combination of sports car and sedan. That's the thread that will tie everything together. Everything we do, we want to breathe and deliver innovation as one of the core messages.
The new ads use the phrase "innovation for all," but not as the tag line. You will retain "Shift" as Nissan's tag line. How critical is any tag line?
If there's sufficient consistency across the communications in terms of your message, I would argue that tag lines are important. But I'm not sure they're necessary, and they shouldn't change often. Many brands -- including ourselves -- have changed tag lines often. If you know who you are, you need to drive a stake in the ground and try to stay consistent. Some of the best brands that have delivered consistent messages over time have stayed very close to home with their tag lines.
This will make a complete declaration of who we are. Consistency across everything we do is core.
There is a feeling inside Nissan that the brand image has been a bit vague. Why do you think that is?
We've had a very model-by-model focus. We want to move away from a launch-and-leave mentality, where you focus almost exclusively on launch models and then come up with a different campaign the next time you launch a vehicle. We want as high a degree of constancy as we can have so that every model ladders to the Nissan brand. So Nissan is the brand; Leaf is the reason to believe that Nissan is an innovative brand.
How much of Nissan's surge in sales this year is attributable to increased advertising and incentive spending?
The plan this year has been very focused and deliberate. If you dialed back to fiscal year '09 [April 2009 to March 2010], in a tight resource environment, we focused on where we thought we could harvest folks that we knew were in the market. We took advantage of every opportunity that we could to draw on both our own owners and on conquest opportunities. And, obviously, it's paid off.
With more resources now, we think we can be even more effective, as with the Juke launch.
The Nissan brand just approved a $100 million increase in spending. That will be a regional program, won't it?
We've taken an investment of $50 million, and we're working with dealers on a matching basis on local markets. It's one of the biggest opportunities we have for the balance of the year. We're just now starting to plan and spend those dollars locally. It's all incremental to the plan we had coming into this year.
We have not had formal relationships with local marketing groups in years past. The dealers have been asking us for a stronger regional presence for a while. The funds are focused market by market. If we need to focus on full-sized pickups in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area and sedans up in the Northeast, we'll make sure the message is relevant. It allows us to focus on the model the dealers want to focus on in their respective market while still building the brand and having an overarching message on a national basis.
Can you say what your total 2010 budget will be?
Not in dollars. But I'll say that, conservatively, we'll be up over 40 percent from 2009. In 2009, we were down, of course. So we're still probably off from 2008 levels, but it's pretty robust spending for what we need to accomplish this year.
You have a batch of new products coming: the Leaf, the Quest, the Juke. Will we see more marketing money in the fourth quarter?
Our spending does skew to the end of the year, coinciding with the Juke and the Quest launch. We've got sufficient resources with a 40 percent bump to be where we need to be. Depending on what we see over the next six months in the economy, I'd expect that we will continue to see increases in our spending.
What kind of media split will you likely have?
We've bumped our TV mix slightly, predominantly for a heavy relationship with sports. We'll have a strong presence in both college and NFL football. Our NFL relationship is a good one, and that's something we'd like to sustain.
We've bumped up our print plan by a couple of percentage points. A lot of that is targeted at the Juke launch. And we've also had a slight bump in digital, leaning a little heavier into social media and also to deeper integrations.
We have a media buy with Apple on the iAd platform that they launched just a couple of months ago. It's available today on iPhones, and in November it will be available on iPad. Previously, if you clicked on an ad on your phone, it would take you away from what you were doing, which is time-consuming. This allows you to see it within the context of what you're doing, which presents the ad more favorably and gives us a deeper engagement in the content. Only a couple of advertisers are going to be using this at first, and we will have automotive exclusivity for the first couple of months.
I think we're at a stage now where our traditional media partners, whether it's TV or magazine, now have the digital capacity to do things that weren't possible a few years ago.
What is the future of print advertising, in your view?
Just a few years ago, print publishers were not very good at delivering a digital experience. They're all becoming very progressive. There are publishers now who are delivering all the content that's in the magazine in an interesting download. Some of those opportunities can come along with the print buys. But there are still readers who like to have the magazine in their briefcase.
You will have the distinction later this year of being the first U.S. marketing executive to advertise a mass-market pure-electric vehicle. How do you plan to do it?
To this point, we've been primarily digital. We have approximately 190,000 hand-raisers through digital efforts, representing people who have said, "Yes, I want you to continue to inform me about the Nissan Leaf."
We have an online reservation process. So, so far, we've been dealing with a very personal, one-on-one relationship with prospective buyers who have paid a $99 refundable deposit online. We hit 18,000 reservations as of last week. The relationship consists of us assuring them that the vehicle is going to meet their individual needs and them having the infrastructure in their home that they'll need for the car.
We'll launch in five markets at first: California, Oregon, Texas, Arizona and Tennessee. We will have to continue to drive awareness on a national basis. But we are beginning a new phase in which we'll go much deeper with our marketing efforts with customers on a regional basis -- in the California market, for example. It may be a year from now before we're distributing the cars in some other parts of the country. We have a staggered approach for sharing the depth of information with people, based on their locale.
So to this point, it's been primarily digital and print, a lot of work with public relations and social media. You will see us transition to some more broad awareness, including TV.
But sooner or later, you'll advertise it on TV like any other model.
Yes. We have a 60-second spot that we'll launch in our first Sunday night regular-season football game. We'll launch two different 60s that night and continue to have 60s in rotation for the first several games at least. But we have a strong relationship with college football and a new relationship with Sunday night NFL football. Again, we will focus on the Nissan brand but feature the Leaf.
Your competitors are publicly casting doubt on the Leaf's battery technology. Will you have to counter the sniping at some point?
We don't think it's necessary. We think it will play out quite favorably for us.
What are your biggest challenges?
The Leaf launch is a big challenge because it's a unique relationship with the owners. We've reinvented the delivery process.
We're also just in the infant stages of integrating and working with our local marketing groups. We'll be developing relationships with them and specific creative for the dealers and with the dealers. They're interested in understanding what library of creative we'll be providing them, so that will be a challenge and an opportunity.
Organizationally, how are you keeping pace with the growth?
We restructured with some of our agencies to make sure there is closer integration. With traditional media having digital legs, we've had to beef up the digital side. And we're working closer with the public relations side of the house. The lines are completely blurred now between what we're doing with consumers in the social spaces and what PR is doing with the media.
We've also worked with our agency Chiat/Day over the past year to collapse some of their walls. They've had a consolidation of leadership where before they might have had individual scopes of work for TV or traditional print or direct mail. They're bringing all of it under one set of leadership to make sure there aren't any fiefdoms on their side and there is maximum integration across the media space.
It's very complex today to make anything from a sponsorship or a TV buy. The elements that come with that now ripple from traditional to digital to social media. If our team and the people at the agency teams aren't all talking together, you'll lose opportunities.