Allyson Witherspoon, director of marketing communications and media for Infiniti USA, is molding the brand's message as it prepares for a wave of new products over the next three years.
Witherspoon, 37, who was global business director for Volvo prior to joining Infiniti in 2013, wants to raise Infiniti's brand awareness through traditional channels while also taking the line deeper into social and experiential marketing, such as the use of virtual-reality experiences at sporting events and other large public gatherings.
She spoke in her office near Nashville with Mid-South Bureau Chief Lindsay Chappell.
Q: What projects are consuming your calendar right now?
A: We had a new agency come on board at the end of last year. We launched three campaigns in the first quarter of our fiscal year with them -- April, May, June. We had our QX50 campaign, one for QX60, and then our summer campaign. That all hit in the summer and through September.
We have a huge 2016 coming up. We're working on some new material for QX50 for the 2016 model refresh. We have a winter campaign that will be coming up, and then we'll have some new work coming out in the back half of our fiscal year around the Q50, QX60, and then the NCAA Final Four activity.
You have several new models coming and a fresh new image in performance and style. Will we see a new positioning for the brand?
When you have the new product we have coming, we're really able to do that. And we're still going through that, to decide how we want to tell a consistent brand story about our new products.
We're still in the process of refining it. It will be a rollout that occurs over a couple years, and we don't want to have a launch-and-leave approach and have it be just a marketing message. We want it to become a whole company mantra that will continue over a long term.
We'll make sure our product communications ladder up to that and make sure our customer experience ladders up to it. But it starts with the product.
What led Infiniti to name Crispin Porter + Bogusky as its global ad agency last year?
They had wonderful automotive experience. They launched Mini in the U.S., they did great work for Volkswagen. They had a great understanding of how automotive works. And they came to us with really innovative ideas to push us in how we tell our story, not just focusing on TV. They've brought a lot of ideas that we are just starting to roll out.
It's also a cultural fit. They're in Boulder, Colo., which is a hotbed for creative and innovative thinking. They are our global agency, but they're based in the U.S., and the U.S. market is really the bulk of our activity.
Part of your work has been creating a consistent message for Infiniti across the board.
Yes. We want to have more aligned messaging with our dealers, and we're working very closely with our dealer marketing subcommittee on all of our national and Tier 2 marketing. The alignment is what will allow us to have a louder voice in the marketplace. We want to make sure we're all on board, that we have the messaging that we want and are saying the things that consumers are interested in hearing, and that we're impactful all the way down to the retail level.
Is it about the consistency of what dealers are saying from city to city?
Not necessarily. We're a smaller brand, and it's very important for us to have a consistent look and feel or people are just not going to recognize us. We need them to recognize us.
But it's more about making sure the dealers have the right advertising options for their market. For example, Texas is a very huge QX80 market for us, so we would want to make sure those dealers have the advertising to support that model, whereas the QX80 might not be quite as important in another market. It's a collaborative effort.
We're also asking: What other Tier 3 experiences can we bring to what we're doing? At the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, we had a virtual-reality experience that the crowds really liked. What is the showroom version of that?
What is so important about these experiential events? Are they as powerful as traditional TV spots?
You have to have a well-rounded push. Everything is going to play a part. And it can be seasonal. Through our relationship with NCAA basketball, we see a significant increase in brand searches and website visits and leads. During the tournament play this year, we had a 25 percent increase in brand search. That's significant. We also have activity going on there at the Final Four. We had a virtual-reality experience that gave us a very strong conversion into customer data. A consumer would sit in the passenger seat of the Q50 with an Oculus Rift [virtual-reality goggles] on and would have the virtual experience of being driven around Indianapolis by former Indiana Pacers star Jalen Rose. We saw almost a 50 percent conversion rate for consumers giving us their information.
There's a lot more we can do. I don't think we've scratched the surface yet.