Nissan Marketing VP Addresses SIS

On the final night of the TransWorld Snow Industry Summit, Nissan VP of Marketing Steve Wilhite addressed the packed evening crowd with a keynote address about his company and its recent history, the changing environment of business, and then shared some personal perspectives.

“The first time I went skiing, I loved it,” he said opening his address. “I’ve tried to get hired in the ski industry for years and it never happened, but now I’m talking to you.”

Wilhite then briefly discussed the history of Nissan in the U.S.. The company experienced significant growth from 1959 when it entered the market to 1985. Then it lost focus on its customers. To illustrate the point, he showed Nissan television commercials from that period featuring cash-back rebates and highlighting that the message wasn’t about the brand, but about devalued product. “Our industry is the best at building brands,” he says, but it wasn’t doing a good job at the time. Eventually, sales and profits were down, and Nissan partnered with Renault to attempt a turnaround.

He says new Nissan GM Garlos Ghosn, who came from Renault, changed the cultural direction of the company, made investing in new products a high priority, and set aggressive sales goals that focused on earning higher margins. The first three-year plan was actually hit in two years.

As part of the repositioning of the brand, the company created a clear vision what company stood for. They tried to be everything to some people. Putting that plan in place, Nissan launched the Xterra, which was a new SUV that connected with small group of people and has been highly successful. He showed some clips of the new television ads featuring the Shift tagline, and pointing out that after some time with the same ad campaign, the image and lifestyle of Nissan became the focus, and in some edgier ads specific car models weren’t even featured.

Wilhite also addressed the changing racial population of the United States. Today, for people under the age of 18, 30 percent are Latino, 21 percent are Asian, 21 percent are white, and 28 percent are African American. He then talked about how some of Nissan’s advertising was targeted directly at these other racial groups and won awards for their implementation and success.

Bringing his speech to a conclusion, Wilhite said that when two companies enter into a strategic partnership, both companies have to share values, personality, and character traits. If they don’t, the partnerships would be a bad idea.

He finished by saying: “I want to get e-mails from all of you with creative ideas and partnership opportunities.”

The TransWorld SNOW Industry Summit gathered more than 300 executives from snowboard and ski manufacturers, retailers, and resorts to discuss issues facing the group. Produced by TransWorld SNOWboarding, with partners Mountain Sports Media and SIA, the SNOW Industry Summit was held April 1 to April 4, 2004 at Copper Mountain, Colorado.