John Abel has been busy since he was named director of Mazda's U.S. marketing in June. Since Abel moved from Japan, where he was general manager for global brand management at Mazda Motor Corp., about half of Mazda's U.S. marketing staff have changed jobs, changed duties or been replaced.
And Abel has been part of the selection process involving four agency finalists in the review of Mazda's creative business. Mazda's new ad agency, WPP Group of London, last month launched a team to handle the Mazda account, called Team Mazda. It was modeled after WPP's Team Detroit, which handles advertising for Ford Motor Co.
The plan: retain Mazda's fun-to-drive image but move the brand upscale.
Abel spoke with Special Correspondent Jean Halliday about Mazda's marketing strategy.
What is the scope of your responsibilities?
My responsibilities include all marketing in the U.S., which includes creative development, media, strategy, production budgets and customer relationship management. There is a role with integrating Canada and Mexico.
What kind of changes have you made in media or communications strategies, along with any organizational shifts?
We're looking at more regional media flexibility, so we're turning up the dial on that. We have five regional offices, and there will be five regional outposts for Team Mazda. Each office will have a regional account director, media person and a third person for support. Before we had more focus on national TV. Now we'll give the regions more flexibility in how they distribute the [media] weight.
We've reorganized. I've got a new departmental structure in place that has created vacancies we're looking to fill. From the outset we recognized that Team Mazda gave us the opportunity to change the model.
One team is now responsible for all content. Before, we had [marketing] divided up by channel and function. We had a separate marketing communications team for TV and print, separate customer relationship management, separate interactive creative and separate retail. We've deconstructed it.
Now there's more of a flow strategy. We put more people into analytics and customer research, so it's strategy-led, and then they hand off to the communications team, which decides what to say and how to say it. The customer-relations and interactive people are challenged to connect with the consumer. They don't have to worry about campaign development and the look of it.
What about the challenge of gaining consumer awareness for your expanded lineup?
Familiarity is a challenge. We're not one of the big brands in the market. We need to drive more product knowledge. When people know the Mazda story, they buy into it further.
How does ad approval work?
I like a situation where we have lots of involvement but very few votes. Ultimately I expect to be held accountable.
Why won't we see the first work from Team Mazda until the spring?
We didn't want to leave ourselves with no work to run, so we have assets [from previous agency Doner] to run through the end of the year. We have the luxury to plan ahead with Team Mazda, and we're not on the hook for anything new until April.
We've had some meetings with Team Mazda, and we're planning ahead for the Mazda5's kickoff and announcement at the Los Angeles show. We want to be relevant in the communications that follow, but it won't be a focus as big as the Mazda3.
We're not planning a huge TV campaign for the Mazda5. We plan to get it there in social media that will be led by Team Mazda.