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Nissan CMO: Big data is a risk to the marketing profession

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Teymur Madjderey

The Nissan CMO, Roel de Vries, shares his views on the role of technology within marketing and why big data could be a threat to the profession.

Integrating technology in marketing

I don’t think there is one piece of marketing technology or one clever idea that will set everything alight or act as a magic wand to make everything work.

However, it is clear that we need to have technology and social engagement at the absolute heart of what we do.

That means that we need to be very aware of what is happening in the world of technology, what’s happening in the world of digital and social so that we can really integrate that into our work.

As a big company with a very large marketing budget, the risk is that if you go after a technology or a specific idea, then it is difficult to integrate that on a global, consistent basis.

What happens is that the people in each region all have their own idea on marketing technology and you end up doing hundreds of things.

All are probably quite innovative and could be breakthrough, but you end up spending a lot of money and the overall impact is relatively small.

Creating a consistent, global marketing strategy

To create a consistent, global marketing strategy you need to put digital at the center of what you do.

At Nissan, we’ve created a small team called the nerve center, which consists of very tech savvy, innovative people that are checking, monitoring and staying on top of the latest trends in the market.

They are not an agency by themselves in terms of creating output and spending money.

They sit in the middle of our agency network.

People say that the future is digital, I actually think that today is digital.

Everything that we do is social and digital.

It might start on Television, or with a press release or in a print Ad, but in the end what you try to do is create engagement and a connection with people and that always ends up happening in the digital and social world.

We need to make sure that all the people that work on traditional media, people that design events, and the people that run PR, all are thinking with an innovative, digital mindset.

That sounds very straightforward and obvious but it in a big organization I don’t think it’s the case.

We have created, and I don’t think it’s only our company, a system where there are many specialized companies, agencies and teams.

They all do great stuff but in the end the customer sits in front of all the screens, whether it’s their mobile, their computer or the Television and they still look at one brand.

They want to see a consistent message from that brand and they also want to make sure that these things are connected.

So, if we connect to these people via a specific medium, then from that connection there needs to be a link to something else that they can do.

Has marketing technology improved the industry?

In the marketing communication world in the last 10-15 years, we’ve found a huge amount of innovative, clever ideas.

It’s been a transformative period but at the same time I think we have lost our ability to connect in a simple way with customers.

We’ve found ways, via marketing technology, to connect more directly with people, and in a more innovative way, but the counter side of it is that we actually come across far more dispersed than we have ever been.

We need to bring that back together and not see technology, digital and social as something that is separate, independent or unique. It has to be at the center of everything.

If we want to connect with people, we need to connect via all the ways that these people live their lives and we need to integrate that.

It’s a massive challenge because we come from a time of specialization and in very large companies like ours, we have separated our budgets, our agencies and our business units.

That was done with a good intent to become stronger and closer to marketing technology, but the backlash is that we ended up doing too many unconnected things, and the result was that they weren’t impactful enough.

We now need to build a higher level of integration.

I think that we should be careful in terms of specialization of agencies, and of separating departments and budgets inside the company.

We need to look at every message and every piece of communication that we do, through the lense of digital.

It shouldn’t be an expansion or an add on.

This will lead to some fundamental changes because we don’t have that level of integration currently, and I think that is industry wide.

A lot of agency change, mindset change and budget change is required and the winner in all of this is social, digital and the people that are savvy about marketing technology.

Embracing data and analytics

The marketing profession is becoming much more analytical.

When I first started in the profession, we had research and some data from the media organizations in terms of who looks at what and that was basically it.

From that, you made your plan and allocated your budget. It was very difficult to see a direct correlation between your investments and your business impact.

The data availability is now changing very rapidly. We can build a much better correlation between where we invest our marketing dollars and what the impact is.

To some extent, that makes our relationship with the CFO easier, because we can start talking a much more similar language than we did many years ago.

In the past, I would have research that had been done in the field 2 months previously, whereas the CFO wants to know how much more profit or, in our case, how many more cars we are going to sell next week.

Today, it is actually getting closer in the sense that I can talk a lot about the impact of what we do and have immediate numbers in terms of the amount of engagement my activities generate.

I can build correlation models between how a certain type of engagement has impacted upon car sales.

It’s not at the level at which we can say because we did this TV commercial or digital piece yesterday we sold 20 more cars today, I think that’s utopia. Maybe one day the relationship will be that close but definitely not now.

What we can do though, through the use of marketing technology, is link the investments we make to business impact in a much better way than we have ever done.

It also makes the job more difficult because CMOs now need to be far more aware of data, technology and digital capabilities than ever before. We need to be more analytical and more financially savvy because we are running a business.

As a big corporation, we spend a few billion dollars on marketing, and the company expects a return on that.

The challenge for CMOs

The job of the CMO is to justify the investment and the impact of those investments.

The counterbalance of this is that I think that big data is also the biggest risk to the marketing profession.

In the end, what you’re still dealing with is to change the perception or the mindset of people, which is an emotional process, it is not a rational thing.

With lots of data, we can check a lot of behavior and understand what our marketing dollars influence but when it comes down to whether we’re moving the needle on the perception of our brand, that still remains an art, rather than a formula.

The risk of big data and the analytical capability today, is that we try to make the CMO a formula which it isn’t and will never be.

In our world, we make cars, and we can analyze which features people want, how important fuel efficiency is, how big they want the cars to be, or whether they like big or small wheels, but in the end you buy a car because you like the car.

All of this marketing technology creates a massive opportunity for the CMO to make their job much closer to the P/L of the business and justify the investment but at the same time, it has the risk that people start thinking that it’s a formula, which it isn’t.