Tough competition prevails in the motor industry and, thanks to Jeremy Clarkson, motoring lifestyle journalism is glamorous. The upshot of this is that the average car buyer is better informed than ever, and therefore more difficult to impress. In the business-to-business motor sales sector, Nissan recently relaunched its fleet marketing programme after realising that fleet buyers are consumers too, and increasingly hard to dazzle in the current milieu. Research undertaken for the company showed fleet buyers receive between ten and 15 pieces of direct mail every week. “The people we’re communicating with are bombarded with information – some of it relevant, most of it not,” says Nissan fleet sales director Simon Carr. “That made us stop and take stock of how we build our relationship with customers. Anything that we do, in terms of information dissemination or calls to action, must support that relationship.” Carr believes the upsurge in Top Gear-style consumer journalism may have raised fleet buyers’ expectations. “The proliferation of motoring journalism has tended to bring the issue of cars to the top of the agenda in most companies. People ask whether they are safe, cost-effective and tax-efficient. These issues are bubbling up within companies. Drivers are now asking more pertinent questions about anti-lock braking systems [ABS], or how well a car did in crash tests. This is affecting the policies of companies, and hence the buyers’ interaction with us.” In response to these pressures, Nissan has overhauled its “Pro Action” quarterly magazine-based communications programme to achieve a more interactive relationship with existing customers, as well as fleet buyers the Nissan database has identified as key prospects. “We got a massive response through the relaunched magazine – about double what we’d had in the past. And we’ve been consistently receiving similar levels,” Carr claims. “Our feedback is personalised to the people that respond. They can say: ‘Please don’t send me loads of information about all of your range, as I only buy two or three products from you.’ The way we communicate with them further is far more focused on what they want and the services they require to run their fleets.” The agency Tullo Marshall Warren (TMW) has handled Pro Action from the start. Focus groups arranged by TMW helped persuade it of the need to change Pro Action’s communication style, says Sean Dewhurst, group account director. “The magazine was originally divided into five sections: news about Nissan, product information, pricing information, the range and events. Each one was in a tabled format so that recipients could get straight to the information they needed. It was all very well in theory, but we discovered the magazine was too detailed for most fleet decision makers. Product-specific detail “Through focus groups, we discovered they were interested in product-specific, detailed information which cuts through the fluff that you get in traditional above-the-line media. They felt fleet communications needed to be more specific in terms of product detail, specification detail and pricing information, without being dressed up in the way traditional consumer communications might be,” Dewhurst says. These findings were particularly valuable because the diverse nature of fleet marketing gives few clues to the make-up of the target audience, Carr adds. “The interesting thing about the fleet market is that very few fleets operate in the same way. Every company tends to construct its own policy and the manner in which it provides cars around specific needs. So you can’t say one fleet is like another.” Nissan’s competitors were using a variety of formulae in their magazines, so TMW analysed all of the available material. “Customer magazines from the likes of BMW were far too detailed for what we were considering,” says Dewhurst. “Then there was the more technical information sent out by companies such as Vauxhall, which relies on fleet managers and so has to keep its information up-to-date. We felt that would only work well with someone who is already a good customer. Pro Action was trying to raise awareness about Nissan as a fleet provider, but also of the entire product range.” It was important to introduce an element of surprise to differentiate the Pro Action magazine, Dewhurst notes. “To make sure Nissan stood out, we didn’t have cars on the front. We revised the format to A4 to make it easier to file, and we made it much more single-minded than the original Pro Action. “Each page has one specific message. Even if a fleet manager spends ten minutes flicking through it, and just reads the headlines, we will have communicated the key messages.” The magazine is augmented by a telephone support service that handles all enquiries and can book appointments for customers to see fleet sales executives. Dewhurst explains: “They are well-trained people who can give whatever information is required on a particular car and arrange demonstration models. Question and answer service “They have the information at hand to answer any fleet question over the phone and can pass people on to the appropriate experts, where necessary.” The call centre is the key to a variety of Nissan’s other marketing activities, in partnership with various sub-contractors, says Carr. “We have test-drive programmes and product demonstrations on a rolling basis. We’re picking up responses to the issue of driver training and how it can help reduce the cost of running a fleet. We run a series of events around these particular issues.” Unwilling to rely on the initial success of the relaunch, Nissan is undertaking a tracking study to assess the effect of the new Pro Action programme on the Nissan brand. Carr regards this attention to detail as essential in the face of ongoing competition for high-spending fleets. He states: “Only the fittest will survive.”
Our trusty columnist has been away for the past 10 weeks teaching the Mini MBA in Marketing and Mini MBA in Brand Management to 3,000 marketers across more than 40 countries. With class over and fresh from winning the PPA Columnist of the Year award, he returns with his own take on the Ronaldo Coca-Cola incident.
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