Lexus Marketing Chief Aims To Add 'Excitement' To Brand

Lexus is planning to announce details of its brand transformation efforts, as well as unveiling a concept car that symbolizes the next generation of Lexus.

The digitalpress conference on March 30 is also the first big news event for Vinay Shahani, the new vice president of marketing, who took over Jan. 4 when Lisa Materazzo, the luxury brand’s previous top marketer, was elevated to group vice president of Toyota Division marketing.

Shahani offers his perspectives ahead of the event in a Q&A with Marketing Daily. 

Before Toyota, you had positions at VW and Nissan, but this is your first experience with leading a luxury brand. What challenges do luxury brands face that non-luxury ones do not encounter?  Are there advantages to being a luxury brand vs. a general market brand? Is it easier to narrow down your customer base?



If you look at a 16 million unit U.S. SAAR [Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate], you would roughly expect just over 2 million units of that to be considered luxury vehicles. So right off the bat, you’re fishing in a smaller pond.  And that pond tends to be hyper-competitive, as we see some luxury brands spend $8,000 to $10,000 per unit in incentives to try to capture share.  

The bright side is that it gives us permission to be more targeted and bespoke in our approach, because you have to know your customer.

For Lexus, we call them the experiential masters, and they’re an aspirational, influential subset of the total pool of luxury consumers.  We use the lens of the experiential masters’ passions and interests to look for opportunities to engage in an authentic and credible way.  That’s the fun part for me, and I look forward to innovating with my team and agency partners in this area to drive more Lexus brand consideration and engagement!   

How has Lexus marketing evolved over the past few years?  I'm guessing in your first month on the job you've taken a historical assessment.  Where do you see opportunities for growth?

In my first couple months on the job, I’ve been onboarding with my team and our agency partners to evaluate each of the marketing levers and recent campaigns. I’ve been trying to do more listening than talking.

I’m really impressed so far with what the team has accomplished.  As an example, the new Lexus IS launch campaign has succeeded in driving a young, diverse and passionate group of customers to consider the Lexus brand.  

I see the opportunity to leverage our strong heritage in human-centered design while adding more excitement to the Lexus brand story, particularly as we look forward in the next few years of product launch plans.

Fortunately, the team is fully engaged in continual improvement, and that will be key as we innovate with new partnerships and new ways of engaging with luxury consumers, particularly conquest. 

Do you anticipate continuing to work with Minnie Driver?  What does she bring to the brand? 

Minnie Driver has been the voice of Lexus in our general market television campaigns since early 2017.  Her voice helps us differentiate our Lexus brand communications, and I think her voice is authoritative and distinctive. I feel it is working well for us.

With the pandemic making experiential and event marketing difficult if not impossible, how will you shift those dollars and still make those connections to foster loyalty? 

One of the few bright sides of the pandemic was that it forced us to be creative in the space of experiential.  We tried pop-up retail experiences tailored to the new Lexus IS, and also began offering drive-in movies catered by our Lexus Culinary Masters. 

Just last week we announced the Lexus Retreats in Motion program, which curates amazing road trips combined with luxury partner hotels to deliver unique adventures for our guests. 

I am optimistic that as the pandemic environment begins to improve, we’ll be able to move even more nimbly back into the types of experiences that our Lexus guests are craving to get back to.  

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