Kristof Drossaert: Personalisation and Community Development is the New Black at Nissan

Last June, Savage met with Kristof Drossaert at the Savage Marketing 2016 conference in Amsterdam. His perception of digital marketing and the importance given to tech blew our minds away. Having worked in digital marketing agencies for years, he has experimented and worked on the length and breadth of various marketing concepts.

In December 2015, he joined Nissan Benelux as the Digital Marketing Manager, where he delivers some of the most curious concepts to success. 

S: What are some of the projects you have started at Nissan?

KD: Since December 2015 we’ve been overhauling all European websites to Adobe CQ6 starting with the Netherlands as the European pioneer market, following Belgium in March and Luxemburg in June. At this moment 70% of European countries have launched their new webplatform and 70% of the features have been rolled out.

Being a new region created in October 2015, the Benelux region does not have any experience in digital marketing (formerly supervised by Nissan France). So my and my team’s main role is to guide the regional business unit in digital marketing, social media, and influencer marketing.

S: What is the sociology behind brand building and how does it help with CRO?

KD: People want to be part of a community. Whether it is a political movement, a local community, or a sports club, humans always have the tendency to group together with peers who have the same beliefs and interests. An example of a very recent movement that grew rapidly is the Pokemon Go community. In a few weeks time Pokemon Go became a strong brand that is worth billions.

Social Media is very often the driver of such success, especially amongst the youngsters. It allows like-minded people to meet and attract new fans. And a successful brand has a big fanbase that encourages one another in the belief that the brand is part of their personality.

In todays society, where work and school are the places one spends most of it’s time, it’s key to not become the ugly duckling. This leads to people wanting to express their true self more and more. The more demanding a culture is, the stronger we see this self-expression (Japan is the best example). And brands can be part of this self-expression.

S: With company names being very innovative these days, what is the balance between re-branding, new deisgn layouts, color schemes and value proposition? 

KD: The upside of being a big brand is that the brand becomes more than just a logo. It becomes a lifestyle. Some very good examples are RedBull and Apple. For example, the introduction of a new device in the Apple range results in huge queues outside Apple stores, often for products that are partly in a beta-phase (Apple Watch). But people want to be part of this movement, regardless of whether that iPhone has the best form factor in the market. This creates a very solid basis for a company, requiring less marketing budget. The product and the fans are the strongest marketing tool available.

The downside is that if the fan satisfaction starts dropping it can drop drastically. Thus these companies need to re-invent themselves constantly. Re-invent, but not re-brand. While Starbucks needs to constantly come up with new beverages and products to lure fans in their shops, they cannot do any drastic design/branding changes without shocking the community. It’s very difficult to re-brand a strong brand. McDonalds has tried this (mainly in Europe) with replacing the signature red colour with green. When they tried to do this full force (in Belgium) it backfired and the response was very negative. The slow approach they take on now, using more wood in the interior, slowly replacing the screaming colours to more soft colours works way better.

S: Due to the recent economic crisis consumers are more price sensitive and less brand loyal than ever before! What steps should companies take to build better brand engagement and loyalty from their customers?

KD: In the past brands could survive on the logo and the pure fact that people were used to the product. In the past people belonged to the same political movement as their parents and grandparents. This is no longer true. This was not the instigator of the economic crisis, but it did enforce the crisis. Consumers suddenly started to question the brands they had always supported, while new and more flexible brands suddenly started to pop-up (Netflix, Uber, Amazon, …). The logo, heritage and name alone were no longer a key to success.

This didn’t mean that brand loyalty was gone, but it did mean that consumers became more demanding of their favourite brand. And brands that couldn’t live up to the expectations went bankrupt. And this enforced again the feeling that we face a huge economic crisis. If big, global brands can go bankrupt, it must be a crisis!

It is key for companies to listen to their consumers. The “digital transformation” has nothing to do with digital. It’s a result of the fact that a lot of brands haven’t been investing in progress for a long period resulting in new brands taking over easily. A lot of brands are still suffering from this and even more brands will disappear in the coming decade. It’s the result of being too late in recognising the strings and the lack of investment in progress.

"A lot of brands are suffering from digital transformation and even more brands will disappear in the coming decade.”

S: How is Nissan differentiating its online and digital experience from other automotive companies?

KD: Although Nissan was on the forefront in terms of electric vehicles and still has sold the most electric vehicles worldwide, we also struggle to keep up with brands like Tesla and Google – and Tesla and Google aren’t even car-manufacturers at their core. The reason is the high level of personalisation and customer centricity that these brands can deliver.

The new platform that forms the base of our websites is built with a very high level of personalisation in mind. We want to micro-manage our existing and potential clients, without breaching their privacy. This is a daunting task for a company that isn’t used to this level of customer focus. But it is our key driver for the coming years.

Without giving away our secret, the platform we are building allows us to personalise every level of contact with our visitors and to micro-target potential clients. Apart from gaining a lot of knowledge about our individual clients, clients will be able to link their car/driving experience to their personality.

S: Electric cars and hybrids are the new norm in automobile purchase – is autonomous driving the new tech companies are rooting for? If yes, what steps are being taken to ensure the new means of commute and consumer trust?

KD: Electric and fuel-cell cars will be replacing most of the current cars over the next decade. To accomplish this, we need to cross some important barriers, with the general public not yet fully convinced that this is the only future we can have. Going 100% electric does mean that we have to be eco-friendly throughout the whole production process. Using solar panels to feed our factories, coming up with a battery recovery plan that allows old battery cells to serve as a wall-battery … much has to be done to ensure electric cars are completely eco-friendly.

Autonomous driving is the next big step in the automobile business. Instead of trying to force-feed the car-market, we at Nissan are slowly but surely introducing autonomous drive in our cars. Auto-braking, lane-assist, adaptive cruise-control, self-parking cars, all are some of the features that already save a lot of lives and are actually part of the future autonomous car. And these features are becoming more and more standard on even the cheapest versions of cars. Eventually all these features together will allow for a driver to let the car drive itself.

"The computer will eventually become your designated driver.”

Apart from some accidents, Tesla proves that autonomous driving is possible. But it requires trust, it requires new legislation, and it requires other drivers to respect the rules too. Since it’s a self-learning system and computers can process the situation way quicker than any human can, the computer will eventually become your designated driver.

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