Mazda is giving dealers more fresh product than they've seen in years: a redesigned mid-sized Mazda6 and Mazda3 compact this fall, followed by a diesel version of the Mazda6 next spring.
The challenge of framing that product story falls to Russell Wager, vice president of marketing for Mazda North American Operations. Since joining the company last year, Wager has made online advertising a higher priority and has given more decision-making autonomy to regional dealer marketing groups. He also crafted the strategy behind Mazda's "Game Changer" ad campaign.
Wager, 47, spoke from his office at Mazda's U.S. headquarters in Irvine, Calif., with Staff Reporter Ryan Beene.
Q: How's the Mazda6 launch progressing?
A: We kicked off the mass launch in May. We've seen intentions double in that period. We've seen awareness of the product go up 20 percent. One of our strategies related to this idea of being an alternative to premium is getting our consumers to be willing to pay more for our products, and the willingness-to-pay-more metric is also increasing.
How have you done that?
It's a combination of things. It starts with the product. The sixth-generation product is that much better -- from the design to the Skyactiv being fully integrated into it to the safety features with our i-Activsense -- and now our messages are telling people about it.
It's also a consistent Mazda message. It's not like one car has it and another car doesn't. What we started a while back with Skyactiv in the Mazda3 is now on CX-5 and Mazda6 and we'll talk about Mazda3 later. It's allowing us to have a different tone, a more confident tone, across all of our model lines.
Are you trying to conquest, and, if so, which brands are you targeting?
We have to conquest. Let's talk about the bigger picture for a second. Last year, we sold just over 270,000 vehicles and we're talking about getting to 400,000 in the next few years. I can't do that just with owners, so we're definitely conquesting, and we're looking at everybody. We're not picky.
The Mazda6 diesel is coming soon. What do consumers think about diesel?
Diesel still unfortunately has a little bit of baggage. But we're not going to tell that story. You can already see some of the other manufacturers are telling that story. We'll let them tell that story. The big part of what consumers are saying is that they see it as fuel efficiency. They're not sacrificing power to get the fuel efficiency. We like to wrap it up by saying it has the fuel efficiency of a hybrid with the power of a V-8, the torque element.
What is the media spending mix at the dealer marketing group level compared with when you arrived at Mazda?
Our mix has probably shifted from television to digital by 20 percent on average. That's one of the biggest shifts. We're also trying to do a lot more experiential marketing, trying to get people to physically see our vehicles. We still have low awareness on some of our vehicles, and this is a way of making more people aware of our full product line.
The redesigned Mazda3 will give you a lineup of four updated products, including the Mazda6, CX-5 and CX-9. How challenging is it to market what will soon be four fresh models, as opposed to one at a time?
That was part of the vision going forward. We saw all this sixth-generation product coming. We had to change the way we come to market, and that meant we needed to have one communication message. That's what resulted in the "Game Changer" campaign. ... That was the first thing we had to do.
The second thing is we have been the Mazda3 brand for a really long time -- great brand, great car. We had record sales of more than 115,000 units last year. But outside of that, maybe someone would tell you we had the MX-5 or maybe they'd tell you about one or two other models they might know. We're now getting to where people know we have the Mazda3 and the CX-5.
The challenge that we're working toward is making sure they know we're a three-car company, with the goal of being a four-car company. We're investing. We've got record high levels of fixed marketing spend going on, and as we continue to grow, we'll continue to invest.
My challenge, as I like to say, is to feed all the children and make sure that all of them are growing.