Volvo looks to ‘challenge established thinking’ by hiring from outside the auto industry

While Volvo’s marketing strategy director Mike Johnstone says there are benefits to spending his entire career in the automotive industry, he is keen to hire from outside the sector to encourage new ways of working.


Volvo’s marketing strategy director, Mike Johnstone, has spent 18 years in the automobile industry, working across motorcycles and cars, but despite having a well-rounded and fulfilling career he warns there can be drawbacks to staying in the same sector.

His main criticism is that marketers can become beholden to the status quo, but he says being guided by insight ensures you always remain close to the consumer.

“When you work in big shiny cars it’s very easy to get product focused and not market focused. Make sure your work and your focus is always driven my insight. It’s very easy once you get into any sector to start thinking about the tactics of what you can do but I would encourage anyone to go back to that insight and who you are targeting.”

Johnstone reckons movement away from the industry is rare because it is a fast-paced and continually evolving sector so there is always new opportunities.

“You are working with great products and lots of innovation, particularly at the moment as we move towards electrification,” he says.

“But equally there are a lot of brands playing in this particular space and it is a relatively big and stable marketplace, that is also one of the biggest in the world. If you are a marketer it is quite an exciting place to be because you have the opportunity to make a difference with a household name. “

I encourage anyone coming into my team to question everything and if it doesn’t make sense to ask as there could be a better way to do it.

Mike Johnstone

Given the insular nature of the car industry Johnstone says he is keen to hire from outside the sector to ensure the status quo is being challenged.

“When you are working with people in the industry for a number of years sometimes it’s difficult to challenge established ways of working. Sometimes there are good reasons why those shouldn’t change but equally it’s really important that for anyone who is coming into a sector they do challenge things,” he explains.

“It’s especially important as things are changing. The way in which people consume our products and our services is very different from five or 10 years ago. I encourage anyone coming into my team to question everything and if it doesn’t make sense to ask as there could be a better way to do it.”

READ MORE: The benefits of being an outsider – why brands are hiring marketers with no sector experience

Despite championing diversity of thought Johnstone is clear of the benefits of staying in one sector.

“You build up a certain amount of muscle memory over a period of time. You get to know what works and what doesn’t work and are able to use your experience and refine it over that period of time.”

However he warns marketers not to become complacent and to ensure they don’t think just because something worked five years ago it will work today. “You have to be really cognisant that consumer behaviour can change and the way we communicate with them has changed,” he adds.

Johnstone also warns that time-served in one sector or brand doesn’t always equal opportunities. He explains: “If you think you’ll only develop by the length of time you work within a brand then you’re a little bit naive. The key thing is making sure you deliver really good work and if you do that then opportunities will arise no matter what sector you’re in.”



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