Nissan Revs up Marketing Across Microsoft Properties

Nissan North America has teamed up with Microsoft to develop a custom branded mini-site and incorporate a variety of ad targeting techniques across several Microsoft properties.

“We’ve realized that portals, from a marketing perspective, should be treated in the same way we treat the [TV] networks,” Steve Kerho, director of media and interactive marketing for Nissan North America, told ClickZ. “Microsoft brings us access to a huge audience, covering the span of the entire day, and through all stages of the purchase funnel.”

The carmaker will increase its search and display advertising, including behaviorally-targeted ads, and participate in pilot advertising programs within Windows Mobile and Microsoft Office Live. Nissan has also launched a mini-site and blog on MSN called “Open for Design“, which focuses on several aspects of design. The site is subtly branded as “curated by Infiniti,” Nissan’s luxury brand.

The site was built in partnership with Microsoft’s custom branding group, with content from experts hired by Microsoft as well as Infiniti designers and engineers. The point of the site is not to push Infiniti’s sales message, but to share its design philosophies along with those of other independent designers in various fields, Kerho said. Instead of a hard sell, it is intended more to inform “upper-funnel” shoppers about the Infiniti brand, and perhaps encourage them to add Infiniti to their consideration set when they move closer to buying mode, he said.

“The content needs to be meaningful to the people that are coming to look at it. It can’t be all about us, or people wouldn’t be coming back,” Kerho said. “It’s no big mystery for them to find Infiniti.com if they want to find out more about us.”

The deal also includes the sponsorship of the “Forza Motorsport 2” Xbox 360 console game, with a corresponding global tournament on Xbox Live coming next year. The game sponsorship includes a Nissan-branded racetrack within the game, as well as billboard signage and graphical advertisements within the Xbox interface.

An important element of the deal involves local search integration for Nissan and Infiniti dealerships. The dealerships will be embedded into Microsoft’s Windows Live Local mapping technology, and will be showcased in geo-targeted ads served through adCenter as part of Nissan’s regional dealer strategy. Nissan will also use Microsoft’s mapping technology to power the dealer locators on its own site.

“They were able to bring to bear a variety of opportunities across their network ecosystem, with the customer at the center,” Kerho said. “We used to do a ‘day in the life’ media plan, but now it’s more like ‘moment to moment’.”

Nissan is moving more ad dollars online because more of its customers can be found there, especially those for its Infiniti brand, Kerho said. The company uses “zero-base planning,” (define) scrapping last year’s media plan and starting from scratch each year with a plan to reach customers for each product based on their media consumption habits, he said.

“It’s less important to look at how our media plan changes each year than to look at how we can get in front of consumers for each product,” he said.

The alliance also allows Nissan to work directly with Microsoft content developers, strategists and experts in particular subject matter to develop marketing programs. The Live Local integration and Xbox game sponsorship were each the result of this relationship, Kerho said.

This kind of a wide-ranging deal across multiple Microsoft properties has become much easier to execute since the company undertook its unified ad strategy, Eric Hadley, general manager of global marketing for Microsoft Digital Advertising Solutions, told ClickZ.

Previously a marketer would have had to work with several sales teams to set up separate deals for each property; now marketers can go to one salesperson for a single buy across multiple properties, he said. “Because there are so many ad opportunities across the company, we want to make sure it’s really clear for our customers that their former MSN salesperson is now their Microsoft advertising solution salesperson,” Hadley said. “They’ll still sell MSN, but now they’ll sell Microsoft.com, OfficeLive.com, Microsoft.com, all these new opportunities we’re creating.”

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