Nissan marketing chief: A successful product launch means leaving no stone unturned

As Nissan launches the latest iteration of its Leaf electric car, the brand's executive vice president, global sales and marketing, explains why the stakes have never been higher.

This month, Nissan underlined its credentials as the automotive group leading the electric vehicle revolution with the launch of the new Leaf, the world’s best-selling zero-emission car.

The rest of the automotive industry has this year adopted the electric vision represented by the new Leaf, with multiple manufacturers unveiling campaigns seeking a stake in this growing market segment.

As the industry trend-setter, the new battery-electric Leaf makes driving more exciting, with more autonomous features and longer range.

As such, it is the icon of Nissan Intelligent Mobility, which is our vision to move people to a better world.  It is also a symbol of how the launch campaigns behind such flagship models have changed.

In the seven years since the first Leaf was launched, a lot has changed in terms of how vehicles are launched. Today, launching a vehicle like the new Leaf presents marketers with significant challenges to breakthrough but also many new opportunities to tell a more robust story to our customers.    

We are now launching our second generation mass-market electric vehicle, while many of our competitors are still trying to launch their first

When the first generation Leaf was launched in 2010, the campaign to showcase this breakthrough model was largely a one-sided affair.

Social channels were not yet fully exploited. There was the traditional reveal, media ride-and-drives, a marketing effort in key sales regions, and the initial deliveries to our customers.

Still, as a result, today Nissan has sold nearly 300,000 Leafs worldwide. We are now launching our second generation mass-market electric vehicle, while many of our competitors are still trying to launch their first.

Fast-forward seven years, and the product launch market-place has changed dramatically.

The inauguration of a new vehicle is crucial to the customer appeal and the ultimate reputation of the company behind it, as anyone who witnessed the botched launch of the long-awaited Rover 75 at the turn of the century will recall.

Back then, the new model was seen as the flagship for Rover’s recovery under BMW ownership. But all the carefully-planned events and marketing campaigns were undermined when the then chief executive of BMW used the "reveal" press conference to warn that productivity and quality at Rover was not up to scratch.

Although the Rover 75 was a fine car, the brand never really recovered and BMW eventually cut its losses and broke up the company, retaining only Mini.

Anxious to avoid such self-inflicted setbacks, carmakers now plan meticulously for every launch. Social channels such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are used for teaser messaging and partial reveals of a new model.

This has been true of the new Leaf. We have used animations, infographics and a teaser campaign headlined "Amazing things are worth waiting for" to prepare the market for this important new model.

The campaign kicked off with a headlamp teaser in June, with other attributes of the new vehicle selectively revealed over the following weeks.

It has been essential to get this sequence right, building expectations ahead of the formal launch of a vehicle that will be sold in many different markets around the world.

The launch itself, of course, is just one part of the puzzle. The advertising campaign to support every new product has to be targeted, creative, and engaging

The stakes are high because so many manufacturers are competing for attention with multiple products being launched every week. This means that effective launch management is critical.

Customer anticipation has to be built. We need to ensure that quality and reliability is absolutely faultless. We must ensure all our suppliers are ready; that we have our launch markets up to speed; that we are ready with customer outreach and action on pre-orders, and that our employees are prepared to be advocates of every important new product.

The launch itself, of course, is just one part of the puzzle. The advertising campaign to support every new product has to be targeted, creative, and engaging.

Advertising spend needs to deliver a return on investment in terms of purchase decisions and brand visibility. Estimates of such spending vary widely, with some ranging from more than $3,000 per vehicle sold for some smaller volume luxury brands to less than $300 per vehicle sold for some mass-market high-selling models.

Advertising spend peaks in the first year of launch and ebbs as vehicles approach renewal or replacement. One thing is certain: every new vehicle launch represents an important measure of a brand’s overall appeal and the perceived innovation represented by its products.

The ingenuity behind a launch is based on ensuring that every phase is managed effectively; that you have the right advertising and marketing messages ready to deploy; and that the launch will be supported by engaging and properly priced customer care and after-sales support.

At Nissan, we are confident that we got this equation right. The new Leaf has a lot of expectations on it. It will be the first of 12 new electric vehicles that will be launched over the next six years by the alliance of Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors – the world’s largest automotive group by unit sales.

So starting with our recent global premiere, but continuing through our ongoing communications campaigns with customers over the coming months, the new Nissan Leaf must set new standards to win the admiration of customers and to take our leadership in electric vehicles to the next level.

Daniele Schillaci is executive vice president, global sales and marketing, Nissan Motor Corporation

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