Marketing is more than ever a science, but that doesn't mean it should become less of an art, according to Nissan's marketing chief.
"It's the era of big data. To the most detailed level we can check who's buying what and where and when, as well as people's behaviors and actions," the automaker's global head of marketing, Roel de Vries, told an audience at the Association of National Advertisers' Masters of Marketing conference on Thursday.
But de Vries said he believes the ready availability of so much data has been at least partly negative. "Over the last 10 years we started communicating so many messages by so many channels using so many agencies that I believe the impact of what we do has been minimized," he said.
It's the marketer's job, de Vries said, to prevent the surfeit of data from clouding the brand message. There's no question that leveraging customer analytics drives business growth.
"But it wasn't the data that achieved this," he said. "What will make our brands stand out is the clarity and consistency" of the creative.
Nissan sells 5.2 million cars each year, and people shop for a car on average only once every six years, de Vries said. As a result, "We spend a lot of money on the 0.01 people who are about to buy a car."
As one method to battle complexity, De Vries wants to reverse the recent proliferation of specialized shops (digital, media, social) and force a simpler approach to managing partners and creative messages. To support that, it asked key agency partner Omnicom Group set up a dedicated operating unit. That unit, NissanUnited, was established in mid-2013 and integrates content development, media investment, partner relationships and brand management under one roof.
"I'm not saying we should recreate the full-service agency," de Vries said. But, "We have decided to demand a much higher level of integration from our partner Omnicom."
While it's too early to evaluate the success, he exhorted fellow marketers and their agencies to adopt similar models.
"If [the agencies] fail I'm afraid more and more clients will start doing it themselves and use the agencies to execute," he said, but he added that would be a shame. Integration should be managed at the agency level, but it's hard to pull off and so the agency has a right to some assurances during the transition.
"You need to have it set up so the brand can trust the agency group to get things done, and the agency group can trust the brand to support them when times are difficult," he said.
Additionally, Nissan has consolidated its media investment in athletic sponsorships and properties – especially soccer – and unspecified "emotive" programming.
During his remarks, De Vries occasionally seemed to equate data with media fragmentation.
"We must achieve simplicity from complexity," de Vries said. "That can be a challenge where everything seems to drive us to increase complexity. Digital has created many opportunities but it can take your eye off the ball. I believe we fueled it by starting to play on too many fields and losing our focus on integrated messages. The era of big data and social … created too may projects chasing immediate or short-term objectives."