Now that the company has posted Vinay Shahani to director of marketing communications, Erich Marx is focused on digital and social media for Nissan. He had been wearing two hats, but with a heavy vehicle launch schedule over the next several months the timing is good. Marx will have his hands full using digital to promote the 2013 Altima and four other vehicles over the next 15 months.
Marx, who somehow also finds time to sideline as singer/guitarist in a Nashville band, is preparing another kind of garage project with Facebook Connect. Called the Nissan "Innovation Garage," the project is a microsite where anyone can tout their own inventions or innovations for a chance at $50,000 seed money and a new 2013 Altima, among other things.
Marx, Nissan North America's director of social media and interactive marketing, tells Marketing Daily that such projects are possible because he has free reign to experiment. "Jon [Brancheau, VP marketing] basically said [the position] is 'for you to define' as long as we grow the brand across platforms -- grow Nissan to be one of the bigger players in Facebook, for instance. We have five vehicles in 15 months, so we need to be a big player in social."
The Innovation Garage, which launches this summer, isn't just about automotive, per Marx. "It can be any kind of innovation. But we want to have fun with it, make it a bit quirky; it comes down to share-ability." Marx is applying that basic idea to other projects for Altima and other vehicles. Nissan, for example, has launched the first of a series of five online videos, "The Altima Experience," featuring five people who -- based on a short online essay submission -- were chosen to test-drive the 2013 Altima at Nissan's Arizona test center.
Marx says that the five were chosen partly because of the buzz-worthiness of their stories, and the videos, shot in May, culminate with a surprise event pertinent to each one's story. "One of them said, 'My girlfriend loves her Altima, I love Nissan, I will propose to my girlfriend [at the test site]. We confirmed with him that he would actually do it and had a surprise celebration for the couple on the track, and filmed it all," says Marx. "So the first portion is the test drive, and at end of each, something compelling, interesting, fantastic and basically, unexpected happens." The series, the first of which launched last week, is on Nissan's Facebook, Google+, Twitter and YouTube channels.
Then, for the launch of the 2013 Pathfinder later this year, the automaker is looking to do something with an established comedy troupe. "We are going to give them a Pathfinder for a week and ask them to make a series of videos about it; Pathfinder will be more than just a prop," says Marx. "They can then present it in a more fun, engaging way than we could." He says the automaker is talking to groups like "The Groundlings" in L.A., and Chicago's "Second City." "It's in the exploration stage right now; again, the thought is we could just do a video of a walk-around of the Pathfinder, but with a comedy troupe, setting a few boundaries so you can't do certain things, we think they might come up with something shareable they would post on their site and we on ours. The point being that this space is still undefined -- it has leeway to it that traditional TV does not."
The brand now has about a million social media followers, according to Marx, who says product is a big driver because of a built-in fan base for vehicles like the GTR, Z [roadster] and Leaf, "even though we have sold only about 20,000 [Leafs] worldwide. The fact is, the community around Leaf is passionate and active online. And we have huge engagement levels with motorsports, as well," he says.
The automaker leveraged its online 370Z fan base for a different crowdsourcing program called "Project 370Z," where Nissan built a special edition of the car from the ground up based entirely on online suggestions. The car is touring Nissan events. There is also a lot of back and forth between Nissan Europe and Nissan North America in terms of social media. "We talk three times a week, and share assets back and forth" he says. "Europe will post content from the U.S., as well. Anything that builds community and gets people to engage in the brand. A fan is a fan."