Asako Hoshino, Executive Officer and Executive Vice President

Asako Hoshino, Executive Officer and Executive Vice President

Making the Nissan name resonate is key to enhancing brand value

The foundation of brand power lies in the thoughts that come to mind when people hear the name “Nissan.” What is the brand to them? What makes it unique? Does it have a positive image? Five years ago, when I was in charge of the Japanese market for the company, my focus was on creating these kinds of associations with the name. So, what are Nissan’s strengths and features that represent the corporate image? The answer is the wide range of technologies developed as an automaker. The mission of Nissan, whose corporate purpose is “driving innovation to enrich people’s lives”, is to contribute to the solving of society’s problems. While automobiles provide convenience and enjoyment to people’s lives, automakers are also facing crucial issues like greenhouse gas emissions, traffic accidents and traffic congestion.

Nissan has developed a variety of technologies and promptly introduced them to the market as it strives toward its goal of achieving zero emissions, through the elimination of CO2 emissions from Nissan vehicles, and zero fatalities, by reducing the number of deaths from traffic accidents involving Nissan vehicles to virtually zero. Through these initiatives, Nissan is producing technologies from its corporate DNA of daring to do what others don’t.

As part of its efforts toward zero emissions, Nissan launched the Nissan LEAF, a mass-produced 100% electric vehicle in 2010. The Nissan LEAF’s contribution to zero emissions goes beyond reducing CO2 emissions. Its battery allows owners to efficiently use renewable energy with unstable power generation. It can also serve as a mobile power source in the event of a disaster. As part of promoting the “Electrify Japan = Blue Switch” action, Nissan signed cooperative agreements with over 100 local governments on initiatives related to the environment, disaster countermeasures, energy management, tourism and depopulation.

In the area of zero fatalities, Nissan introduced a number of world-leading safety technologies based on the Safety Shield concept that helps protect people. The ProPILOT technology for assisted highway driving draws from the continuous development of safety technologies over many years. In the future, we intend to make this advanced autonomous driver-assistance technology a standard feature in all our vehicles, ahead of the industry. This technological evolution will also contribute to the reduction in traffic congestion.

As a result of these activities, the name Nissan has become synonymous with EVs and autonomous driving in Japan. Many customers in China are also aware that Nissan is a technologically advanced brand. These areas have become a strength for Nissan and the “face” of the brand.

Penetrating Nissan’s technical prowess at every touchpoint

At Nissan, marketing focused on products in the past. This resulted in distinctive profiles for vehicles like the Skyline, Nissan GT-R, Fairlady Z and Serena, but the image of Nissan brand that put together these vehicles remained underdeveloped. We were nonetheless able to sell vehicles. However, the auto industry faces a major transformation as customers are changing significantly in their mindset and behavior. In the past, customers would visit dealerships several times to research and test-drive vehicles, as a basis of comparison in making their final purchase decision. These days, customers can readily access information online. Approximately 70% of customers know in advance which car they want to purchase by the time they visit a dealership. In addition, there are more repeat customers who purchase the same brand they previously owned. Therefore, it is essential for customers to follow us and have a positive view of our brand by the time they are ready to purchase a vehicle for the first time.

In order to ensure that customers have that mindset, we launched the “Yacchae” Nissan brand campaign. This campaign highlighted Nissan’s technical prowess as the “face” of the brand and clearly emphasized the technologies in each vehicle as well as the value that those technologies bring to the customer. It is particularly important that customers can feel the driving excitement that every Nissan vehicle provides, which was made possible with Nissan’s technologies.

However, a brand cannot be reinforced through TV commercials alone. We cannot communicate widely a brand image of technical prowess without showcasing our outstanding technologies at every customer touchpoint, including the dealership experience. Communication with Nissan employees is also important. Every available tool must be utilized for information sharing and education, in order to enable our employees to be ambassadors and convey Nissan’s appeal.

Restoring sales power with new models that excite customers

Our strategy to restore global sales is to focus our efforts on new models with the potential to be number one in their respective segment, rather than trying to increase our coverage rate for the entire market. Specifically, our focus will be on the all-new Nissan Rogue in the US and the all-new Nissan Note in Japan. The all-new Nissan Note, with its second-generation e-POWER electrified powertrain, is one example of the ongoing Nissan Intelligent Mobility initiative to lead automobiles into the future and become a more exciting brand. By developing and launching new vehicles with an emphasis on electrification and autonomous driving, we aim to raise our brand value and recover our market share. In Nissan’s home market of Japan, we plan to introduce two new EV models and four models equipped with e-POWER by the end of fiscal year 2023, so that Nissan’s overall electrification ratio could reach 60%.

The appeal of electrified vehicles can only be grasped by driving one. Since e-POWER vehicles are more affordable than EVs, they have an important role in allowing more people to experience that appeal. Furthermore, the Nissan Ariya, the flagship model of Nissan Intelligent Mobility, is scheduled to launch in fiscal year 2021. The Nissan Ariya is equipped with cutting-edge electrification technology, intelligent functions and connectivity. Its innovative interior and exterior caused a sensation when it was unveiled in July 2020. The true appeal of the Nissan Ariya and the amazing driving performance from electrification have to be experienced firsthand on the road. Although the vehicle moves briskly, the cabin space is incredibly quiet. The ride is comfortable and luxurious and any customer that drives one will want to buy the Nissan Ariya.

We need our customers to truly understand that the Nissan LEAF and Nissan Ariya are EVs that are worth the price. For our marketing and sales divisions, the current challenge is to clearly convey the appeal of EVs as Nissan pioneers a new age of electric vehicles that offer the values of an automobile, as well as a mobile, rechargeable battery.

Appealing to customers of all generations

Nissan’s corporate reputation suffered due to the cases of misconduct in recent years and largely impacted the Japanese market. In order to regain trust, we must reexamine Nissan’s image as a company, which includes enhancing its governance system and corporate culture. We must also renew our brand image. Our new company logo has an important role. Actually, plans were underway to change the logo prior to the misconduct cases. Our previous logo was created two decades ago, and people’s lives and the nature of automobiles had changed significantly. Communication became primarily digital; many people now communicate through social-networking sites and this has considerable influence on their lives. Therefore, a company logo that could reach new customers in a two-dimensional, digital medium for this new era was required. The shift to the new logo began with the all-new Nissan Note e-POWER, and it spread further via social media due to the positive response from young customers.

Nissan also introduced a car-sharing service for electrified vehicles called “e-share mobi”, and many young drivers have used it. This has helped electrified vehicles capture new customers.

In addition, Nissan established “brand experience stores” in major shopping centers and other facilities. The aim is to not directly sell vehicles but to offer customers, who generally do not visit dealerships, the opportunity to experience Nissan vehicles. In Japan, we also introduced the “Hello Nissan” program, which allows customers to experience advanced technologies. Similarly, the objective is not sales. By contrast, it offers customers a driving course that is optimally designed to experience Nissan’s advanced technologies and interact positively with the brand.

Digital tools are indispensable to strengthening Nissan’s sales power. The use of artificial intelligence (AI) to provide support allows us to thoroughly explain vehicles to customers in every region. By widely introducing new dealer management systems like this in the future, we will raise the accuracy of AI communications so that we can provide precise services.

In addition, Nissan is improving its digital market support to allow customers the option to purchase vehicles without visiting dealerships. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact on automobile sales. This led to the decrease in the number of visits to Nissan dealers. Accelerating the development of digital market support is one way to address this problem.

Amid the pandemic, many customers view personal automobiles as a safer option than public transportation, so there has not been a decline in interest to purchase vehicles. By launching vehicles that customers want with the right timing and strengthening digital sales, Nissan can improve its sales power even in the midst of this pandemic.

For example, in the United States and Mexico, plans have begun to complete the entire vehicle purchasing process online. A variety of new initiatives are underway in major markets, such as live chats and live video functions online to reply to customers’ questions and concerns and offer customers test-drives of Nissan vehicles at or near their homes without physical contact with sales staff.

At the same time, many customers still prefer to purchase a vehicle by visiting a dealer, so we are accelerating the introduction of a system that will combine on-site sales and online services in a seamless manner.

Nissan’s revival depends on whether we can deliver “Nissan-ness” to our customers. We hope that everyone on the frontline of sales will do their best to help restore trust in the Nissan brand.

Published in March 2021