Nissan – Selling The Message, Not The Car.

What is marketing?

I know the answer’s probably as obvious as the nose on your face, but some people really like to talk it up, and make it sound far more grand and involved than it need be. Marketing is simple: it’s all about communicating with potential customers, conversing, advising and persuading with the ultimate aim of selling a product. The advent of the internet has made this process much easier. With internet marketing and social media marketing it’s now easy to reach a vast, new audience, promote your wares and sell stuff with the simple click of a button. But should marketing only be about selling at every available opportunity? Not according to Nissan’s new Head of Social Media, Erich Marx, in an interview with AdAge: Twitter and Facebook should be used for communication, not the hard sell.

Such statements may sound strange, coming from such a high-placed source. Yet Marx is convinced his thinking is correct. He’s been at the company for over 20 years, and has spent the last few years in charge of all marketing communications, including social media marketing. He now has sole charge of social media marketing and communications, which in itself is a testament to just how important the company believes it is. Digital is no longer seen as simply an adjunct, or extra, to the more traditional methods of advertising, but is regarded as an equal that requires his undivided attention. His job is to ensure that Nissan’s social media strategy delivers, not in terms of sales figures, but by communicating and informing.

So how will social media help Nissan?

Building an online community is vital according to Marx and it’s the only way to achieve sustainable success. Companies will never manage to consolidate their market position unless they learn to communicate and interact with their followers:

“Nissan has a number of big new product launches in 2012. The goal is to grow our online presence — the number of followers on Twitter, the number of likes on Facebook. The goal is to grow those as big as possible so we have maximum opportunity to expose the new product. To date, Nissan has not done any sort of sweepstakes or contest where you are required to be a fan before you can enter — we haven’t done any gimmicks to get fans. We want to build our fan base that’s genuine and authentic, not to just grow the fan base for the sake of growing the fan base — we want fans who are truly ‘fans’ and truly engaged with us.”

Why is online engagement good for Nissan?

“We’re using the community in many ways. For example, research — it’s almost like an online focus group of people who have a passion for the brand. We can use their input and apply it to future products. Also, to create Nissan evangelists – that is, people who like our brand but take that to the next level. How do we stoke the passion in them? Well, a big opportunity is our performance cars. Any news about the GT-R or 350Z, whenever we have news about those products, the engagement and the pass-along is double and triple what we get for our other cars. Our brand has a celebrated history in performance cars, and social media gives us a chance to amplify it to a broader community.”

Do Nissan see social media solely as an avenue to sell more cars?

“It’s not about selling vehicles tomorrow, it’s not about a $179 lease on a Nissan car — it’s about building value, so if we can offer our customers something that’s of interest or of value to them — that’s a win.”

“We give them access – that is, information they’re not necessarily going to get in magazines or traditional sources: maybe a sneak peek or a behind the scenes glance. We recently did a feature called “Ask the Chairman” during which the head of Nissan Americas Carlos Tavares [COO of Renault, a Nissan sibling as of July 1] answered questions in video format, right off the top of his head. He’s not just a great businessman, but he’s a car enthusiast, so he can answer questions that a lot of people can’t answer. We want to leverage that kind of expertise, so we went on Facebook and Twitter and said, “Hey, ask our chairman anything.” We filmed his answers on the floor of the New York Auto show in April. He spoke directly to the consumers, unscripted, spontaneous and genuine — we got a great response from that – more than 535,000 Facebook impressions on those videos. This kind of activity adds value and that’s what we want to bring to the social space.”

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