Lisa Materazzo starts her first week Monday, Jan. 4, as the new group vice president of marketing for Toyota Motor North America. In the role, Materazzo, 52, is succeeding longtime Toyota executive Ed Laukes, who announced his retirement in November.
When she first joined Toyota in 1998 as a senior product planner, Materazzo was part of the Scion effort before leaving Toyota in 2008 to hold managerial positions at Brand Sense Partners, Ridemakerz and AOL. She returned in 2014 as a corporate manager, media strategy and digital engagement.
Materazzo spoke with Staff Reporter Larry P. Vellequette last month about her new role.
Q: What are your plans for the new job?
A: I definitely have big shoes to fill. The gentleman who came before me, Ed Laukes, has been leading that department for a while. That being said, it's not unfamiliar territory to me. I spent many, many years in Toyota marketing — I have been on both sides of the house, I would say. When I returned to Toyota in 2014, I was in integrated marketing operations; I was responsible for digital, and media and social, and then I transitioned from there to vehicle marketing and communications. That's the area that works on strategy, our go-to-market plans, creative production, training for new products, as well as the Toyota Dealer Association. It's exciting to come back now and see it all come together under the group vice president role.
Do you have a to-do list — a way to put Lisa Materazzo's stamp on Toyota marketing?
I am first and foremost going to come in and listen and learn, because it's been two years [since last working on Toyota marketing instead of Lexus], so I want to respect what has been done prior to my arrival. I think it's less about putting "my stamp on it," and more about: What can I really dig into? What do we have ahead of us?
I think the great news there is that there's a lot of exciting things to look forward to. When you look at the new product that's coming down the pipeline, that's very exciting. We actually have, over the next 16 months, we're going to have 13 new [Toyota] vehicles to launch, so from that perspective, there are many opportunities built in for great, great marketing.
And if you look at our Olympic and Paralympic initiatives — we are a top sponsor in the Olympics — and because of COVID and the delay to the Tokyo games, we're actually going to have a pretty unprecedented situation where we'll have the Tokyo games happening in the summer, and then six short months later, we will have the Beijing winter games. So that brings a host of opportunities.
Speaking of upcoming product launches, are there some new things you'd like to try?
We're always trying new stuff; that hasn't changed. We're always looking with a new launch to do a combination of tried-and-true initiatives, but also more of those "moonshot" opportunities. That varies product by product exactly what those are, but that is so embedded in what we do, and how we go to market. I think particularly now, with COVID, it's no surprise that the shift to digital brings on many opportunities for us. I think even post COVID, many of those changes in behavior — and those shifts in media consumption patterns particularly — I think they'll stick.
What's your thinking about the importance or even the future of auto shows?
I think we'll have to see. Auto shows have played a role, not only for Toyota and Lexus, but for all the other OEMs, and it's less about auto shows specifically and more thinking: Where are the consumers? How can we reach the consumers? What will that look like? That has to play out a little bit more, I think, because we're still in the midst of COVID, to the point where it's really challenging to resume auto shows in a safe manner. That's first and foremost in our mind. We've proven that we can pivot; when you look at the product that Toyota launched virtually, and then on the Lexus side as well.
You could argue that virtual reveals were perhaps even more beneficial, because it offered us the opportunity to expand beyond the audience we would have had in a traditional auto show.
But I do know that many of the auto shows understand the changes that are taking place, especially in light of COVID, so they're looking at how they can innovate as well. We'll have to see what they come back with in 2021. We've had success with auto shows, especially when you think about the regional and local auto shows, and the exposure that gives us for our dealers, it's great. We have our product specialists there, so it's a great opportunity to touch and feel the vehicles and learn more about them.
You're also now responsible for Toyota's motorsports. Where do you fall on the motorsports spectrum?
I'm a huge motorsports enthusiast, and I have been all my life. It predates my Toyota experience. I grew up in upstate New York near the Watkins Glen racetrack. I have two older brothers who are car and motorcycle fanatics, as is my father. It's kind of in my blood, so I love motorsports.
I think it's good for the brand, and I think it's good for our guests, because we have fan engagement. It really is a way for us to connect with our guests, and this is universal, whether it's on the Toyota side or the Lexus side. Motorsports is another good way to have that one-on-one contact, to get folks in our vehicles and let them learn a little bit about our brand. I do think it plays a role in marketing the brand and being a great touch point with our consumers, so I love it.
Have you ever done a racing school or anything like that?
I've done a couple: the Skip Barber Racing School, and the Lexus Performance Driving School. I've driven Laguna Seca track, and I was going to be able to drive the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, but that was interrupted by COVID, so I'm hoping to get a chance to get back on the COTA circuit. It's on my bucket list.