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Why are marketers leading the automotive industry?

Marketers are crucial to creating a distinct brand identity and experience, writes Richard Pinder

My LinkedIn feed was often filled with articles and posts bemoaning marketing’s lack of gravitas compared to finance or operations and its lack of representation in the C-suite. However, when we look at industries currently undergoing significant transformations, that paradigm is shifting.

Take cars. With the world moving towards electric vehicles (EVs) and self-driving cars, every aspect of this industry is evolving, from engineering to new revenue models and distribution. And remarkably, marketers are now taking the helm of strategic decision-making.

Luca de Meo

This marks a significant shift from two decades ago, when nearly all automotive Chief Executives came from production or engineering backgrounds. Today, we are starting to see many more car company CEOs with marketing backgrounds. Notable examples include Jim Farley at Ford, Luca de Meo at Renault and Davide Grasso, the former Nike Chief Marketing Officer who now leads Maserati.

So why the change?

Car companies are highly specialised and siloed machines which have become efficient at compartmentalising the business. Engineers may focus on building better electric cars, but convincing customers to choose their product over competitors requires a difference beyond an incremental performance improvement.

Automotive World Magazine – February 2024

As Elon Musk wisely noted, “One of the biggest traps for smart engineers is optimising something that shouldn’t exist.” Marketers excel at zooming out and envisioning the long-term goals, target audiences, aspirations, and how their product or service fits into people’s lives. They create a unique brand experience and a world in which it thrives.

In the era of electric cars, acceleration, top speed, and powertrains will no longer differentiate brands. Instead, it’s about creating a distinct brand identity and experience. Marketers (partnering with Design) are crucial in understanding and shaping this vision.

Take Luca de Meo’s transformation of Renault. In just three years as Chief Executive, he revitalised a declining brand into a potential EV industry leader. Engineers and designers require years for product cycles, but marketers can drive rapid transformation.

This is an exciting time for an industry initially threatened by change. EVs may lack the visceral thrill of internal combustion vehicles and most share a large quantity of components in the ‘skateboard’ under the body, but the new wave of designers and their marketing savvy CEOs are looking at them as a giant iPhone: where the user experience is all, and the brand experience is the only real differentiator.

Engineers and designers require years for product cycles, but marketers can drive rapid transformation

Moreover, marketing thinking can lead to other transformative possibilities. Gen Z’s shift towards renting rather than owning is evident in the fashion rental market and multiple car companies are now trying to find their version of this model.

The automotive industry’s transformation, where marketers are taking the lead, serves as a compelling testament to the value of their expertise. This isn’t just a passing trend; it’s a seismic shift in one of the world’s most significant industries.

Marketers have a unique ability to zoom out, envision new realities, and shape brands into powerful forces. This capability is invaluable in today’s unpredictable and rapidly changing landscape. As leaders in this industry recognise the importance of marketing in guiding their organisations towards success, it should inspire all marketers to dream bigger.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.

Richard Pinder is Chief Executive of Rankin Creative

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