Nissan's Hussein Dajani: digital will always be a challenge for traditional agencies

Hussein M. Dajani, GM digital marketing Nissan, "Digital is a mindshift in the way agencies operate"

Hussein M. Dajani recently joined Nissan as general manager, digital marketing for Africa, the Middle East and India. The Drum spoke with him about his marketing plans in the AMI region.

You have moved on from a digital agency to working for a motors company i.e. Nissan. How do you plan to bring that knowledge into the company?

I believe that the experiences I have gained from working in various companies, in various markets and on various brands, equipped me to tackle the new task at hand from a fresh perspective. Digital has proved that it isn't a fad. The challenge will be on how I manage to integrate digital into the various departments in the organization, while keeping the customer journey and experience as the first and foremost priority. Especially given that buying a car is the second most important investment any individual does.

The starting point will be to understand who the audience is, what are they saying about the brand; its products, its dealers, its services, etc. Listening plays a very important role in the process, especially because consumer behaviors vary from one region to the other.

When working in an agency, the focus was more on devising breakthrough creative campaigns which ensure that people keep talking about the brand or product, but not necessarily driving sales. Working client-side, it makes you decide which campaigns deliver on your objectives, be it brand awareness, product launch or sales. Just like working with a group of creatives, researchers, media personnel, social team in the agency, on the client side it is working with the various departments (marketing, sales, communications, after sales, retail, product planning, etc) to ensure you devise for them the tools and solutions they need to meet their KPIs.

Will traditional marketing agencies ever become digital?

In all fairness, traditional agencies have tried to embrace digital, but time after time, it has proven that they won't get digital anytime soon. As long as the people leading the agencies at a senior level are not digital savvy, nor understand how digital operates, this will always be a challenge to them. Opening a digital department in a traditional agency doesn't make it become digital. Digital is a way of working, it is a mindshift in the way agencies operate.

What are your plans for marketing Nissan in the regions?

The plan is beating competition in every market I handle, and that is, Africa, Middle East, and India. We have what it takes to make this happen. Nissan is a very innovative, forward looking, and relentless brand which keeps pushing the barrier.

With "Innovation" at its core, I need to ensure that whatever solution I propose and implement delivers on that. We are witnessing the rise of a lot of entrepreneurs and tech startup; we need to start tapping into those to see who has a ground breaking solution we can partner with. For example, Nissan in Europe partnered with NUMA, a leading startup accelerator, to launch CityMakers in partnership with Renault Group, AXA, RCI Bank and Services, and the City of Paris. This is the kind of idea I would like to bring to the region and execute.

My immediate focus will be understanding the needs of each market, going through what has been implemented, and then hit the ground running in building on what has been achieved. Data will play a very important role in understanding if there are any loopholes anywhere, and then implementing a solid customer-centric approach in devising a seamless journey for them; from the initial phase of creating the interest in our products all the way to locking a sale, and then after sales.

Among AMI, which is the toughest market and which is more friendly?

It's hard for me to state this as of now. I can definitely say though that the easiest for me will be the Middle East region. I know it inside out and have worked in every market of it. The challenge will be for me in the new markets I will be exposed to; mainly South Africa and India. Those markets, to me, present great opportunities and I am looking forward to working closely with the teams there.

We recently saw Datsun India use 'Election Theme' to reach out to Consumers. Are social causes attractive marketing ideas?

I recently read a survey by Edelman Goodpurpose, which indicated that over 72% of respondents said they would prefer to promote a brand which supports a social cause against one that doesn’t. Brands owe it to their communities to give back to them by supporting causes that matter. I am seeing a lot of brands increasingly engaging in social campaigns to strike a connect with their consumers. Marketers see it as a way to reach out to consumers and carve a niche for the brand, inspiring loyalty.

One of the first things though that companies decide while chalking out a social purpose strategy is the message they want to send across or the cause they would like to support. It helps if the message is in tandem with the brand or the product, as it helps people relate to it better. Consumers would like to extend their support to an initiative only if they understand what the brand has to offer. There are a lot of 'watchouts' though as sometimes, if the wrong cause is supported or the wrong message is sent out, this could backfire for a brand. I advise brands to ensure that the cause they are supporting relate to their market, their audience and their brand.

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