But beyond helping Nissan sell more cars, Brancheau’s larger challenge has been clarifying what Nissan stood for in the minds of U.S. consumers.
Nissan executives began openly bemoaning in 2008 that their brand image was perceived as a murky discount brand that needed new clarity to stand out against Honda, Toyota and even Hyundai.
Since being installed at Nissan in 2010, Brancheau has steered the marketing program and Nissan’s TBWA\Chiat\Day ad agency to trumpet Nissan as a brand for product innovation, with edgy and sporty designs.
Since then, Nissan has hammered on the tagline “Innovation that excites” in its advertising. He also turned up the volume on Nissan’s social media presence, and created a college football presence for Nissan that included its partnership with the Heisman Trophy Foundation.
Friday morning, in an unusual move for any automaker, Nissan publicly released comments from Brancheau explaining his decision:
“I'm really proud of what my team and I have accomplished at Nissan, yet I’m looking forward to pushing the ‘pause’ button to spend some quality time with my family while I consider my next challenge,” the statement said. “I am confident that the company is positioned for sustainable growth and continued success.”
Nissan’s senior North American spokesman Dave Reuter says the company is eager to head off any speculation that Brancheau has been dismissed.
“We have tried to talk him into staying,” Reuter says.
Nissan Division sales totaled 418,509 for the first four months of this year, up 13 percent from the same period in 2013.
Its market share climbed to 8.1 percent at the end of April, compared with 7.4 percent at the end of April 2013. In May 2010, when Brancheau was named to the Nissan position, the brand held a 7.3 percent U.S. share.
No replacement named
Reuter says Nissan has not had time to select a replacement for Brancheau, whose title changed late last year to vice president, Nissan marketing communications and media. His role was broadened to give him additional responsibility for pricing and incentives, “with a focus on revenue growth and profit generation for the Nissan brand and its dealer network,” according to his official biography.
Reached privately, Brancheau declined to discuss his career plans.
A Michigan native, Brancheau had been director of global media operations for General Motors, and previously head of Cadillac marketing. Nissan North America recruited him to Nashville in 2008 to head up marketing for its luxury Infiniti brand as it took its first steps toward worldwide sales.
He moved into the Nissan-brand marketing position in 2010.
Two years ago, Brancheau also helped Nissan launch a regional dealer advertising structure to give Nissan dealers more financial muscle to market locally.