Mazda Goes Its Own Way To Gain Traction As Small Player in Changing US Market – Forbes

Posted: Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Mazda is attempting a unique straddling strategy to survive as a small brand in a U.S. market that has reached a number of inflection points.

It’s an approach to product development, sales and marketing that combines hedging Mazda’s bets — and being downright contrarian in places. The No. 12-selling marque in America is highlighting the importance of the driving experience at a time when most of its rivals are scrambling to be ready for the coming era of self-driving. It is attempting to gain a premium cachet for its products but at value prices. And Mazda is launching a strategic new marketing campaign into mid-summer doldrums that, traditionally, the industry has reserved for model-year-end closeouts.

Mazda has made great progress over the last several years in overhauling its product line and providing a nice balance between well-regarded sedans and utility vehicles that give it a very broad range for a company whose overall volume might suggest it’s only a niche player. In those ways, it has overcome many of the limitations of being so small that it hasn’t invested in building a factory in the U.S. after abandoning its sharing arrangement with Ford at a Michigan assembly plant.

And so far this year, as the U.S. auto market has cooled, Mazda has been holding its own, with a decline in sales of less than 3 percent compared with a year ago, pretty much in line with the industry.

But as it pursues its own strategy for long-term prosperity, Mazda only needs to look up a few rungs of the sales-volume ladder to see what can happen to a lower-tier player that boldly attempts to move up. Hyundai’s U.S. sales are more than double Mazda’s, but the progress of the Korean brand in the American market has stalled because it bet too heavily on small cars that are selling poorly now and didn’t do enough, early enough, to ensure it would be well-represented in SUV segments that are the hot sellers.

Right now, Mazda is running an ad campaign, “Driver’s Choice,” that is a great illustration of its strategy. And it’s attempting to advance Mazda’s positioning in a significant way at a time when many competing brands are focusing on ridding dealer lots of 2017 models to make way for 2018 models, and in a market in which rebates and other financial incentives are playing a growing role as overall sales have leveled off.

Mazda’s commercials feature real people (premium car owners) in a sort of blind taste test of Mazdas versus other vehicles in their segments. Mazda conceals the identities of its own models and identifying marks of the competitors. The upshot: After putting them through their paces, the majority of those surveyed preferred Mazda vehicles when they didn’t know the identity of the brands.

That aligns with what Mazda Vice President of Marketing Russell Wager has been trying to do for the past few years: give Mazda’s brand and vehicles a premium cachet at affordable prices. This has meant largely saying so long to the “zoom-zoom” imagery of the sporty but inexpensive Mazda and hello to bold comparisons with Acura, Infiniti and other avowed premium brands.


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