Roel de Vries, global head of marketing, communications and brand strategy at Nissan Motor Company says marketing needs to create connections that are both emotional and simple, especially in an industry where everything is quantified.

Automotive is a category where everything is quantified. You can find out how much legroom there is in our cars, how far each litre of petrol or diesel will take you and how much the monthly leasing cost will be for every model.

When you work in a sector where everything is expressed in numbers, you need a differentiator. For Nissan, that means harnessing emotions to create a new level of engagement among consumers.

Brand Purpose

As a company, we have two fundamental purposes: first, the quest for cleaner or zero-emission mobility and second, zero accidents. Turning that vision into a consumer engagement strategy sets tough challenges: people care about safety but they don’t want us to produce boring stories about how we do that.

The first step is internal and involves making sure that our common purpose is embedded within the company. That’s not just because in general Japanese culture works by consensus but because the pipeline from initial development to product launch is very long.

We are working on things today that will be sold to consumers in seven or eight years’ time. If we do not have a very clear idea at the outset of a brand’s core purpose, we will never deliver on a product that is coherent with our communications strategy.

That is not to say you can never adapt later on. When we launched the Nissan Leaf, our first electric car, we focused on the environmental message, which was right for that time. But as we moved towards a wider audience, we had to change that.

Storytelling as standard

Our messages are now more geared towards how exciting it is to be part of the future. Owning a zero-emission vehicle is rewarding but it’s not a compromise. Leaf owners want us to show that it is fun and great to drive and do that while saying it’s zero emissions. So we are moving in the direction of celebrating the people that electrify the world, rather than the environmental message.

Leaf embodies our company purpose but it also demonstrates how we are changing our marketing and revving up our storytelling.

Our marketing used to go product by product; so the Micra message was different from Qashqai communication, which was based on the idea that each group of customers had a different need. Our new approach is to ensure that there is a consistent message across all models. We are moving towards having two or three stories that the Nissan brand expresses, with each product or service tapping into one of those stories.

One such storyline would be about the way that we innovate to create excitement, demonstrating that everything we do is designed to create a level of fun, whether you do that in an Altima, Qashqai or Juke.

The structure in which we tell these stories also needs to be similar. We always try to start our story around the reality of today, then communicate the changes that we have made in order to create excitement for the future

Delivering on our purpose and storytelling is still a work in progress. In the field of autonomous driving, we have a lot of products and technologies where customers recognise that we are advanced. However, we still have a way to go in integrating purpose to our messaging and into our storytelling.

You have to create your connection on a consistent, ongoing basis to attract people to your brand and that happens via the non-rational part of people’s brains. We may work in an industry where everything is quantified but our marketing needs to be both emotional and simple.

How can Project Reconnect help you?

I think there are other brands in other industries doing a better job at creating movements with which people want to engage. You can never copy because a car is something that is different to food or soap but as a pure marketing expert, I think there are many good examples from which we can learn to apply less logic and more magic.


This article was originally published in Marketing Week's Project Reconnect column. You can find the article here.