Dec 8, 2023
34 min
Episode 50

TOP CMO: Brad Audet, Mazda USA- 'Driving Human-Centric Innovation'

Brad Audet  00:00

We still collectively believe that customers care about the features and benefits. And the reality is, is I think those brands and businesses that do best are the ones that stand for something and talk about the why not the what.

Ben Kaplan  00:15

This is the podcast where we go around the globe, marketing leaders from the world's biggest brands, fastest growing companies and most disruptive startups, re ideas packaged a certain way want to spread, they want to be told to someone else's simple, surprising and significant data to unlocking viral creativity is to make it rapidly scalable. This is TOP CMO with me and Kaplan.

Ben Kaplan  00:46

Today I'm speaking with Brad Audet, CMO of Mazda North America, shall we talk some cars?

Ben Kaplan  01:02

Brad has more than 20 years of experience in brand development, especially at agencies like BBDO McCann, Mullen WPP. And the bespoke agency created for Mazda Garage Team Mazda, where he served as general manager. Brad joined Mazda in March 2020. That's a significant date in the pandemic timeline. And he set out to improve experiences for all stakeholders during trying times. So what's it like to position yourself as a technology company, but one that still has a radically human approach? How about serving as a brand aware CMO, the one that understands the entire business operation? Not just the marketing function? Let's find out was Brad Audet.

Ben Kaplan  01:55

Brad, one of the things that I know you characterize yourself as as a business minded CMO, what does that mean? And if some are business minded, that unless means to some CMOs are not as business minded, so what does it mean to be a business minded CMO?

Brad Audet  02:12

Well, I think it's about having a holistic point of view across the entire business operation, just not what is necessarily specific to marketing, I think, for a long time, CMOs were characterized by their ability to create the brand or to bring the voice of the customer to life or to have a particular creative expression about the brand or product or service that they're representing. And I think increasingly, CMOs are becoming more and more accountable for overall business value and business growth, which requires you to have a much more holistic point of view about what actually drives your business. So I think about it when people say, Well, what kind of CMO are you, I would say, Well, I'm very much a business CMO, because I think our role in terms of serving all of our stakeholders in our ecosystem is really important. And it's not just any one person's job, it's about how you orchestrate the capabilities of the organization to get that desired result. So very much yeah, a business CMO.

Ben Kaplan  03:20

And when you talk about stakeholders, you know, you're the CMO of Mazda, North America, that gives you an interesting seat at the table with some different stakeholders. One would be, of course, Mazda, Japanese iconic company in Japan. So there's like kind of the global headquarters, which is very much a Japanese company. And I know you and I have chatted before about how even the aftermath of World War Two continues to influence even how the company looks at the world. That's one stakeholder. On the other side, you have North America, local dealers, and you've characterized it before as very much a partnership with local dealers. So those are two types of stakeholders that not every business necessarily has you have. So how do you think about that in a holistic point of view, a business point of view, but having to make sure you're working in lockstep with those two very different stakeholder entities?

Brad Audet  04:11

Well, I think if the way that we look at stakeholders overall, as we would say, our employees and our stakeholders, which would also include our colleagues in Japan, in Hiroshima at our headquarters, would also include all of our dealers are very much Eric holders, as well as our customers and all of the partners and communities that we serve. Those are all stakeholders. And you know, our aim is to provide enriching experiences for all of those stakeholders. So I think Mazda is very clear and what it stands for, about enriching the lives of those we serve, and that's why we exist as a company and we deliver that through three kinds of core values. One is about being radically human. One is our challenge our spirit one is We call Omotenashi, which was really, I would say best described in the Western way as serving from the heart, treating everybody with empathy and being able to walk in their shoes in a very selfless kind of way. So, I think when it comes to, you know, interfacing and managing and collaborating with our colleagues at MMC, we very much share that common spirit. And we understand the importance of the US market to monitors global success. So we're very good in that regard

Ben Kaplan  05:32

for the US market, how much leeway in marketing? Are you given to personalize it to the US market a personalized North American say, Hey, this is different, or does it emanate from global and it's meant to amplify or other important differences in how the marketing strategy or actual creative is implemented in North America,

Brad Audet  05:52

we have principles of who we are in terms of what our brand stands for, from a characteristic standpoint, from a style standpoint that we adopt globally. But we very much as a company allow the local regions like the US or North America to create their own interpretation of that. Because you have to be surgical, and you have to be specific to the customers that you're serving. And that market and customers in every region that Mozza do business, and I think we do business in 148 countries, they all have to share some common truths and and that is round, you know, our purpose and our promise of uplifting people and our values, were all guided by those same common principles and behaviors and desired outcomes. The execution of it, though, manifests itself differently in each one of those markets. So we have a fair amount of latitude to do what's necessary to in our goals. Going back to the dealer piece for a second. And the last question, one of the things I think is really important is, when we talk about radically human as a company as a value, you know, we fundamentally believe that we win by putting people at the center of everything we do as a company, and that includes our dealers, and we believe that our dealers are very valuable resource to us. And in a very dynamic changing automotive landscape. Right. So we've put a lot of bets on our dealers where I think maybe other manufacturers have taken a different point of view. And we very much believe that we're successful in partnership with our dealers. So you know, when it comes to marketing, and it comes to how we manage our business, we do it very much collaboratively. And we share that responsibility. And then that coordination, as it relates to how we go to market as a brand. And how we add value to not only our customers, but all of our stakeholders. Well. And

Ben Kaplan  07:47

so how would that be different? If sort of the marketing experience of a Mazda dealer with someone else? You know, another car companies dealership? How is it different? Some automotive, you get pot of money, that's your money, that's advertising that comes from corporate? And it's like, okay, go forth and do with it. And this is more of a collaborative how we're going to do it together? Is it that dealers have more governance or skin in the game, or it's co created? Or how is it different than if it was just GM or Toyota or someone else?

Brad Audet  08:14

In the industry, there's a layer between, let's say, the manufacturer, and the dealer, which is reference to as tier two, which is regional money, which is shared money, we abolish that in our ecosystem. And it's either all the dealers money of which we contribute to, or it's our money, but I don't think the funding of them is as important as the alignment, the strategic alignment around how we manage the customer journey and the customer experience. And so, in that regard, we are very aligned in creating a unified single point of view for the brand, regardless of who funds if the dealer funds it, or if Mazda funds it. I'm not sure that the industry overall has that same level of alignment. But we believe that as a, as a challenger brand, in a very competitive automotive space, that that actually is an opportunity for us, you

Ben Kaplan  09:09

say radically human, yet the corporation doesn't interact with the customers as much as the dealers do. So to a service that rely on the dealers to have that interaction and to bring forth those values or that experience. How does that m&a And how do you think of that as CMO so that dealers in Ohio or Illinois or Arizona or you know, Maine, across the US or across North America into Canada to deliver a similar experience? That's up to your standards, even though there might be small ones, big ones, some that have big budgets, some that have smaller budgets? How do you think about delivering?

Brad Audet  09:45

Yeah, so I think there's there's a couple layers to that idea, right. First off, I think the dealers have been very receptive, supportive and embrace what we stand for as a company why we exist, our purpose, our promise and And our values, they are very much aligned with that. And I would say that, you know, while the dealer is the primary interface to the customer, there are a number of other areas that have to work equally as well to allow that dynamic between the dealer and the customer to exist at the highest and best level, right. So that's why we think about all of our stakeholders holistically, whether it's the type of environment that we provide for our employees, the type of demand that we create through our product design and engineering, which is very customer focused. There's a lot of different things, whether it's the ownership experience that we collaborate with, in our dealers. Now over the course of the last five to six years, we've gone through a process where we have built all new stores across our dealer network. So we have about 380, dealers out of our 550 That probably represent around 80% of our sales that have a new building facility program called retail evolution. And that new building footprint I think is a much more premium customer centric type of environment. And what we see is in those environments, not only do we have higher dealership personal satisfaction, but we also have higher, higher customer satisfaction with the brand overall. So the dealers have done a very good job and embracing Mazda's opportunity in the marketplace, embracing Mazda's uniqueness, and unifying with us to develop a coordinated plan to treat all of our stakeholders very richly. And so I think we're it's an area where you can always kind of improve but from our standpoint, customer experience is really where I think you're going to win in the future. I mean, all cars are becoming better quality, better crafted, have similar safety. So how you kind of experience that you provide what you stand for, and how you treat the people you serve, I think is really going to be how you win in the future.

Ben Kaplan  12:17

One aspect of Mostess marketing that is interesting to explore is the role of Mazda motorsports. That's the racing division of monster. That is its purest expression of brand positioning.


You know, this car was the first Japanese car to win limo. Yeah, we're doing this because it's a passionate boy. And it's just a dream film. True,

Ben Kaplan  12:38

you know, you just don't get opportunities like this. As Brad would describe it, Mazda is a challenger brand in an industry with very big players, and racing epitomizes the Challenger spirits, especially with Mazdas tagline. Never stop challenging to Mazda racing is the inspired metaphor for the combination of technology and humanity. Great race cars have to be technology advanced, of course, to have a shot at winning, but they also have to be human centric, because at the end of the day, it's the drivers who will be racing. In this way. Racing is intended to be the embodiment of the Mazda brand itself. You've mentioned a couple times you know Mazda is a challenger. And when I think of incumbent versus challenger brands, I think of a classic examples like you know, Coke versus Pepsi, right? Coke is the incumbent, Pepsi is the challenger brand. So Pepsi does some stuff that coke would not do. For instance, when the Superbowl was in Atlanta, Pepsi bought every billboard in Atlanta just to stick it to coke in their hometown, that we're going to be everywhere. And that's something a challenger brand would do. So when you define yourself as a challenger brand, what are some things that you do that other brands would not do that is more aggressive or bold? Well,

Brad Audet  13:54

I don't want to give away all of the trade secrets. There are what we do on a on a podcast, please

Ben Kaplan  13:59

do we do it all the time, just our friends. But I think,

Brad Audet  14:02

you know, from our standpoint, you know, if you think about where we sit in the automotive landscape, I think there's like 38 different manufacturer nameplates right now probably 380 390 different name plates available to customers in the marketplace. And, you know, we're one of a few brands that actually had year over year sales growth three years in a row, you know, during the pandemic. And so, I think what, what what has helped contribute to that, and, you know, can continue to propel us forward is very much about staying true to who we are, and what we believe in. And as I said, putting people at the center of everything we do, so we're not going to be the type of marketer that's gonna go out and spend a lot of money on mass reach television advertising. We're going to do things where maybe we take care of it community like educators or health care workers during the time of need when they're helping us. So during the pandemic, we did a number of programs where we provided free oil changes and deep car cleaning and things, sanitation, things of those natures, in order to take care of those people at a time when they didn't have the opportunity to take care of themselves, because they were taking care of us. And certainly our dealers are pillars in their community when it comes to community engagement and activation, right, probably some of the most generous entrepreneurs in the market in terms of taking care of their community. So community focus, I think, is one of the areas that we focus on from challenger perspective. Because I think we fundamentally believe that, you know, if you take care of others, you'll wins. And that's why we put people at the center of everything we do.

Ben Kaplan  15:54

So when I think of Challenger brands in the automotive industry, I mean, the one over the past few years that comes to mind is Tesla, you know, Elon Musk has many things people think of as an entrepreneur, a very polarizing now political figure, almost owner of Twitter acts many things. But people often don't think of him as a marketer, of course, which he is, he's doing a lot to drive discussion about Tesla, as a leader in marketing in the automotive industry. How has Tesla and Elon Musk caused everyone to rethink things put on hotels think about marketing, what has been the effect on the industry? Well, I

Brad Audet  16:30

think it's created a belief, you know, a month that say, the executive community at many automotive manufacturers, that you can do extraordinary things and create a lot of demand without spending the marketing money that you've historically spent. I say, you know, everyone has kind of tried to grab it. For today, non mass media approach really focused on, you know, owned, and earned. But I think what we're seeing is that in a highly complex and mature market, there's very much a role for advertising, marketing, demand kind of generation activities. If you look at someone like Tesla, and you look at their success, I mean, how do you separate the role of Elon Musk in that versus the role of Tesla, Tesla, the fundamentals of that company? And they'd say, Well, we, you know, we we want to add word of mouth, while they also were first to market with an extraordinary product. And they had a very vocal founder. And so if you're a mature business, let's say that's been around for 100 years, and in have sold cars during that entire period, do you have the same fundamentals? And so I think it's kind of an apples and oranges comparison a lot. But the reality is, is, you know, I'm certainly that will see, Tesla start to advertise if they haven't already.

Ben Kaplan  18:01

Your background is interesting, because you come from the agency side, WPP, which is one of the you know, the huge agency conglomerates that own many big agencies in their own right into one kind of massive holding company of advertising and marketing agencies. You also come from heading up really what you see at a lot of, you know, for for really big clients, which is like bespoke agencies created for the client, which was called garage T Mazda. And you headed that up? So how does that inform your role now and making the jump from the agency side to the client side, there's other CMOS listening who have made that jump or considering the jump? How does that just kind of inform you now having seen the business for a lot of years, but not internal to Mazda before?

Brad Audet  18:48

Well, I think when I was on the outside looking in, you know, as eager to drive a lot of change, that I couldn't actually drive from the outside in, right, because I just didn't have enough influence across the key people to drive that change. So coming in to Moz. And, and now working as part of Moz, I think we can drive change much faster. I think the other thing is, is that, you know, you come into this job with a different understanding on how to get the maximum value out of the agency. And I told the story a while ago to some some folks when I was at the agency, I spent, you know, virtually 90 to 100% of my time thinking about Mazda all day long, right. I come over to Mazda as the CMO and I only think about the agency or what the agency is doing, it's probably only 10% of my share of my what I need to do my job here. Right. And I think that there's a gap there and having the ability to understand both environments allows us to kind of manage that gap the most effectively, which then generates better outcomes for Masters business. Overall.

Ben Kaplan  19:58

What is your Dealing on bespoke agencies set up for one clients. And why was there a move away from that for Mazda?

Brad Audet  20:08

Well, I think there are different agency models for different types of clients in different situations. And I think for where Mazda was 10 years ago, when we first brought WPP on the team model was the right model. I think a lot has changed in our industry in the communications industry with a customer's expectations over that, over that 10 year period that necessitate a fresh look at the at the capability design. While I think that there's a lot of advantages to a bespoke T model, there's also some risks with that. And then a part of what we've tried to create and our new agency model with WPP is bringing in more people that have visibility, experience, or access of problem solving across a wide variety of clients. And I think in an environment where technology and data, the impact on the business is so transformative happening so fast. It's important to have a wide and diverse spectrum of experience on the business,

Ben Kaplan  21:27

a broader experience set than say automotive sector. You want to see if you are like technology sector. Other other things. Is that what you mean? What do you mean something different?

Brad Audet  21:36

Yeah. So I mean, I'll give you the, you know, with some of the work that we're doing with WPP right now, and, you know, our three agencies at WPP are VML now consolidated with Wunderman, Thompson, mindshare and h&k. Not I would say the majority of the team probably isn't automotive specific in their experience. And I think that's a good thing. In fact, we have, we have folks on the team from QSR. We have folks on the team from, from tech that worked primarily in technology sectors. And I think they all bring a different perspective. And if you look at the automotive space, I think we're moving from an environment where we were primarily designed around manufacturing to now where we're becoming more designed around service. And I think when you look at electrification, and you look at the role of technology in the automotive ownership experience, it really creates a greater service orientation. And I think you're seeing that with, you know, connected vehicle and different subscription plans and different service plans. So the skill sets that you need to navigate based on the things that you need to influence are changing not only in the types of people that we need to iron outside experts, but also in terms of how we transform our internal capabilities to better align with what the future state is going to be versus where we came from, which was a much more kind of mass media centric approach.

Ben Kaplan  23:03

A racing team goes way beyond the driver. There are engineers, mechanics, specialists, truck drivers, support members, team managers, and more. Nothing would be possible without constant communication, and trust. pitstops, for instance, are lightning fast, requiring clear and efficient communication among team members? One interesting element of Foster's marketing team is the interaction between the corporate entity that Brad works for an individual car dealerships that sell cars to consumers. As Brad explains it in the Mazda ecosystem, the regional layer that would usually separate corporate and local dealership interactions is totally removed. In its place, car dealerships are co creators of marketing efforts as partners, not just stakeholders. As a result, local considerations are always a part of the marketing strategy and pasta. In terms of your marketing capabilities, where are you tried to do things in a new or different way, a better way than maybe you did it a few years back?

Brad Audet  24:09

Well, I think that, you know, the role of data and technology and how it influences experience design, every touchpoint on the customer journey is an opportunity to create an extraordinary experience, but you can only do that if you can anticipate the specific needs of that of that individual. And so I think we spend a lot of time innovating in that space, trying to just enhance our overall conversion. Right. And so, I think, you know, every one time it talks about, you know, or had talked about the past about the panel, one too much on marketing and but it was really one to many. And I think when we think about experience design, whether it's physical contact, whether it's communications, you know, one size fits one is the way that We kind of look at that. And you know, you've probably heard one size fits one before from well, good Dara, who is famous for love and Madison and in his book, extraordinary hospitality. But I think that there's a truth in that when you think about how are you serving the individual, which ladders were a two, we want to be from a radically human standpoint and in our behavior that we exhibit the way that we treat people through Omotenashi. You know, that kind of infuses into everything that we do?

Ben Kaplan  25:31

Did the pandemic and the effect on people's patterns and shopping and online consumption and whether they're walking into dealerships or not? What is the lasting impact of that on marketing in the industry? Now, post pandemic? What did it accelerate? What did it change?

Brad Audet  25:49

Well, I think the pandemic you know, accelerated for certain service offerings like pickup and delivery on service or a home delivery of your vehicle. Certainly online shopping saw a pretty dramatic acceleration and engagement during that timeframe, I think it's kind of settled down a little bit. I think cars are still something that people have a very strong emotional draw to, and they need to feel it and see it and touch it and kind of experience it. But, you know, there have been, I think, fundamental changes in the way that customers shop for vehicles. And I think what we see all the time is, you know, customers are going to less and less dealerships, and they're making their decisions sooner, and primarily digitally. So we have to be able to offer the same kind of a routine experience in the digital environment as we offer in the physical dealership environment. So I think those kinds of things are here to stay. And I think, you know, customers are increasingly and you know, they're always looking for more convenience and way to get more value out of their life. And I think there's a lot of a lot of consumers that are looking for quality of time, and they make their decisions based on what are those companies and brands that are going to provide them a better quality of time, because there is no more time to be given back.

Ben Kaplan  27:15

What other car manufacturers have marketing that you really admire? Who do you look to as a good benchmark for you and how you're doing or the innovator or someone else to be observed or analyst? Well, I would

Brad Audet  27:30

say as an industry, I don't think that the automotive category has done as good a job as it probably can, as a category overall, and doing really compelling and impactful. Marketing and creative. And I think if you just look at the FES and automotive performance, it can you would see that there's a lot of opportunity for us to do better work. And I think, you know, the the best work in the market is done by those brands that have a strong sense of who they are, and stay committed and consistent to a particular mission. I think, you know, for a lot of brands, and particularly in the automotive space, there's a lot of people that have influence on the work as it goes through the system. And sometimes it doesn't always result in the in the best work.

Ben Kaplan  28:22

So you would say then that consistency, and understanding your true purpose, your true north star would be something to aspire to. Yeah,

Brad Audet  28:33

I mean, maybe to say it in a different way. I think as as an automotive industry, we still collectively believe and behave and such that customers care about the features and benefits that are on a product. And we spend a lot of time talking about those features and benefits, even though they're largely commodities, and they've been commoditized. And the reality is, is I think those brands and businesses that do best are the ones that stand for something and talk about the why not the what. And I think those are the brands that are seeing success and will continue to see success

Ben Kaplan  29:13

moving forward. Finally, how do you think about your own career, your own career path now and what you advise to others, the skill sets you've accumulated, and what the future generations of CMOS will need? What do you take from all of that and your journey to get to this point? And what do you advise others that are maybe a few years away from a CMO type role?

Brad Audet  29:33

Well, I think for me personally, it took me a long time to really recognize the importance of people and the dynamic. I think a lot of times as you're striving through your career, you're very much focused on the outcome, the achievement, right, the destination, versus the journey to get there. And I think, you know, my advice to a lot of younger people is to spend more time appreciating and understanding the journey issue that you're on, because sometimes the journey is actually more important than the outcome. And so I think that gets back to the idea of, you know, putting people at the center of everything you do. You know, I think the other thing for me is in our job, and in a dramatically changing environment, it's easy to maybe be cautious or afraid of the fog that's in front of you the uncertainty of where the industry is going to go, the impact of AI a the impact of other technologies, and that can create stagnation, I think at some points in time. So I think, you know, moving forward, and making progress is probably the most important thing, and you're gonna make mistakes along the way. That's okay. But you can't stop making progress.

Ben Kaplan  30:46

Well, and I think there's two ways to move forward towards a difficult goal. One is to plan really, really well get all your ducks in a row and sort of give it that one shot. The other way is, you make a whole bunch of little decisions, and you course correct, a little bit more like software development, right? 1.1 1.2 1.3. And sometimes, the latter can get you to the destination faster than if you tried to get it perfect. And you're never gonna get it perfect. You might just take action, learn and course correct, maybe that gets you there faster in the end.

Brad Audet  31:19

And I think, you know, the other thing is, is as we evolved through our careers, I think you learn over time, that the majority of stuff that you interface with, or problems that you confront, are not nearly as bad as you may construct them in your mind, or that you believe them to be. And, you know, I'm certain we all had some type of conflict last week, last month last year that we've that we've already forgotten, but at that particular time, we had a lot of stress about it. And so, you know, one of the things I've I think I've learned and you know, that I tried to share with our team is that you end up working through all of these things, right? And you might have some momentary discomfort. But as long as you stay kind of optimistic, and you think about the bigger picture and where you're trying to go, all of that other kind of noise that as a kind of a way or a tendency of weighing you down, just dissipate.

Ben Kaplan  32:19

According to Brad Audet, the fast paced marketing race has required the CMO role to evolve and change. As marketers, we're now responsible not just for marketing itself, but also for overall business objectives. That's why we need a holistic view of the entire business operation. In Brad's Mazda world to CMO is like the pit crew chief, working in tandem and facilitating communication and strategic direction with internal teams, external agencies, dealerships, global headquarters, and other stakeholders. So gaining experience outside of the automotive industry will help you solve problems within it. Give more autonomy to other stakeholders that make your brand principles clear and strong, so everyone has the same Northstar. If in doubt, keep learning, keep iterating and keep the pedal to the metal for TOP CMO, I'm Ben Kaplan.


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