Nissan's Erich Marx Gets To Focus In New Job

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Erich Marx, who until now has had to do double-duty overseeing both traditional and digital efforts for the Franklin, Tenn.-based Nissan North America, recently caught a lucky break.

The former director of marketing communications has made a parallel move that relieves him of the marketing equivalent of having to juggle a kitchen sink, six scimitars and a bowling ball. Marx, who is now Nissan's director of social media and interactive marketing, gets to focus on what he likes best.

The 20-year Nissan veteran -- who has held management positions in marketing operations, brand management, market intelligence and marketing communications, and for the last three years has been director of marketing -- tells Marketing Daily that the move splits marketing operations at the company but also aligns with an industry trend toward creating a dedicated social media position.

"In 2008, we had two directors of marketing and both left the company. So they rolled it into one and gave it all to me in February." Marx held the position for 37 months. "I think the straw that broke the camel's back in terms of having so much on one person's plate was the explosion in social media. We saw that we really needed to split the job into two and put a new focus on digital and social."

Nissan uses Zocalo Group for word-of-mouth work to reach influencers and press at the brand level and Chiat, which is AOR for all things marketing, "and they are also helping at model level with social media engagement," he says.

His goal -- in terms of measurable -- isn't merely to create a gigantic fan base. "It's trying to find a balance -- we want to grow the right way, authentically, with fans who are engaged. Everyone is focused on social, but [the new position] lets me dive deep into the Web site, which gets 37 million uniques per year and is a key tool for converting visitors into hand-raisers and lead generation."

The new position also allows him to look at ways of integrating corporate communications with marketing. "Those are two chimneys without the degree of integration that we want. Now I'll report both to David Reuter (head of corporate communications) and Jon Brancheau (VP marketing) and manage social media across both departments."

The company has identified several areas for social, including crowd sourcing marketing research to get early news back on product and product features after a launch; using the social space for CRM to keep in communication through service specials; and crowd sourcing new product ideas. "It could crowd source the colors for a new vehicle," he says, and use social media to engage consumers in lifestyle marketing.

"A great example is our co-sponsorship of the Tour of California cycle race; we used social media to promote it, not formal advertising. We posted new content every day, with two- and three-minute videos including behind-the-scenes features. So we will use social to expand and grow and amplify lifestyle experience marketing. Our GT Academy is part of that; our sponsorship of the Heisman Trophy tour is part of it, where we go to 10 of the big games every year and set up a huge tent. That's something we wouldn't promote through traditional ads."

As for Nissan's Web site, he concedes it almost seems passé to talk about Web site strategy, given the explosion of social media and -- especially for automakers -- third-party platforms. "Ten years ago we were having the exact same conversation about Web sites, and it's about social, which is still in its infancy," he says. "A lot of people say 'why worry about a Web site if you have Facebook?' But we control our Web site -- it's us. Facebook, quite frankly, is not in our control. It's really for conversation, and our own site is where we want to provide certain content and a really deep look into the brand in a way that just isn't appropriate in social spaces."

The company is revamping the site from the bottom of the funnel up -- starting with new vehicle configuring, lead submission, and pricing elements, per Marx. "We have just released our brand new shopping tool suite. And we are also looking at improving and optimizing vehicle landing pages. When someone clicks on a banner ad for Altima, for instance, we want the vehicle landing page to be dynamic and engaging." Marx says Nissan is also working on geotargeting things like bonuses, events, to a visitor's local market.

While Nissan has shifted more and more marketing budget into digital, Marx says balance is critical, and that nothing yet can replace traditional media for reach. "I'm happy with the [digital] investment levels as a percent of total. Having said that, the investment on traditional isn't going away. You can't match Sunday night football -- there's a place for NFL on Sunday afternoon in Nissan's marketing.

"I don't think traditional media is going away -- the NFL [on TV] didn't go anywhere when the Internet came. And that's what makes it difficult. If it were substitution of new media for old, it would be easy. But it's additive."

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