VP Of Nissan Marketing, Jan Thompson, Chats With Roadfly

At the North American International Auto Show, there were plenty of chances to rub shoulders with the top leaders in the auto industry as well as the entertainment industry. I was fortunate enough to sit down with Terri Hines, Senior Manager for Marketing and Lifestyle Communications at Nissan North America as well as Jan Thompson, VP of Marketing for Nissan North America for an interview about the role that Generation Y would play in Nissan’s future. Needless to say, they both looked the part of professional women in their well-fitting suits as I sat down to the table, feeling a bit nervous, out of my league and under dressed in my jeans. Here’s how it went:

Jan Thompson

LB: The Shift 2.0 approach. You recently said that “[Shift 2.0] is an invitation for the next generation of Nissan drivers to experience the next generation of Nissan thinking.” Do you see Generation Y as the key to the future success of Nissan?

JT: Absolutely. In fact I would argue that Generation Y is affecting more sales today than people give them credit for because the parents are relying on the kids and saying what should I get. So the voice from Gen Y even though they may not be the buyer of the vehicle, they are influencing the sales of I couldn’t even estimate how many.

LB: Well we do make up 20% of the population, sooo….

JT: Well they are influencing who knows how many car sales, but it has got to be at least that many.

LB: How are you marketing to the Generation Y aspect that are coming straight out of college but are more focused on the brand name rather than the quality, affordability…

JT: When you look at our average buyer age really for both brands we’re very young and we are picking up the younger group, we’re picking up the kind of leading edge innovator groups, influencer. We really came to life with the first generation of Nissan and the Infiniti G coup. With the next generation out there now, you’re going to see us picking up a lot more of the younger group. We outsold the 3 Series last month by 2000 units.

LB: My friends have definitely expressed more interest in Infiniti over Nissan. Do you feel like you have the separate the two brands (Nissan and Infiniti) to reach out to all prospective buyers?

JT: Definitely. Well they’re two separate brands, two different positions, although Nissan is very young as well. We want this buyer now that we have a full-range of products on the Nissan side seeing that 1999 we only had 6 models so it was very hard to keep someone once you brought them into the company, same thing for the Infiniti side. We were in NY in SoHo at the Wired pop-up store with all of these new technologies around Christmas and it was totally full of 25-30 year olds. There was technology in there that cost $30,000. And we were the official car and every night it was packed. So we will be doing more and more of those and go to where these people go. A lot of these kids have just gotten out of grad school and have the disposable income. Infiniti offers something different; it’s not your father’s BMW. The first month out we outsold the Lexus IS and the 3 Series.

LB: So are you using tools like YouTube and Myspace to get your name out?

JT: YES. In fact we have a real music strategy over on the Nissan side of the house. The Nissan Live Sets that we’ve pioneered on Yahoo! It’s online concerts at our own private sets and we invite 300 young people to these with major stars like Christina Aguilera.

LB: How do you decide who comes to the concerts? Do you use street teams?

JT: Yahoo! has been doing that for us, but once a quarter we target it to some hand raisers that feature the demographics we’re trying to reach. We also consider the band, like if it’s Incubus we want to have the right group. 25 million [users] a month go to Yahoo! so this is where these people are so we’ll give them the content that they’re looking for and we can measure, track, get them into a community; it’s a very powerful tool.

LB: Is there reasoning behind say something like the Titan or Xterra having an above average stock sound system?

JT: Yeah, you don’t have to take it out and go buy another something to put back in. We have a very youthful approach to designing vehicles. We were, after all, the first one to have an Xterra. The product innovation is music-based.

LB: The 7 days in a Sentra ad: Was that shot because our generation is constantly on the road?

JT: Totally. It’s the 24/7 lifestyle. They live in their cars. They have a case of water, workout clothes etc always in their car. It is totally ripped off from real life. We tested it with IAG, the company that comes in and tests TV commercials. And it scored the highest against the competitive set and anything we had done in the past. It was the highest scoring campaign yet until someone comes along and dethrones us.

LB: The Sentra SE-R is quick narrow segment to target. How are you going about it?

JT: Online. We know where those buyers are. They’re mostly male, young racers. We know where those guys go online and we’ll be where they are. And a lot of those guys, because of blogs, know it’s coming. Pre-interest in a vehicle like that is so strong so if we mention it, they’ll sniff it out a year in advance and look for the spy photos etc.

LB: How do you feel about blogs and forums, since traditionally print media has been the major avenue for advertising?

JT: We’ve actually got a real strategy going on now between corporate communications and marketing about blogs. It used to be that PR guys did their things and then maybe the marketing guys did something else. It is certainly a force to be reckoned with, but you need to develop a strategic approach. How do you WANT to deal with it? It’s going to be there anyway. It’s obviously a risk for some corps, there’s good news and bad news. There are no secrets any more so deal with it, so it is about how you want to deal with it. For example GTR that’s all over the place. Bloggers are doing all of the advertising for me so I don’t have to spend that much money. But you have to be careful who is speaking though, is it indicative to the general market or is an enthusiast out there who just doesn’t like the segment.

LB: Altima-coupe casts a wider net, so how does your advertising change?

JT: We start with basic mass advertising but we want to become more contextually relevant, like to the woman we are targeting for this vehicle. You can’t just use your standard billboards. What lifestyle does she lead, what magazines does she read, how old is she, what does she do, what sites does she visit online so what features should we give her?

LB: That just about wraps it up. Thank you so much for your time!

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