By on July 11, 2012

A few years ago, a wave of internet-fueled utopian ideas were supposed to headline yet another “paradigm shift” (or whatever throwaway bullshit term you wish to substitute) as the Web 2.0 revolution made us all more “open” or “social” or “connected”. Then, most of us woke up and realized that this was all a scheme by a bunch of social maladroits to get rich using our personal data, and we all went back to living our lives.

Nissan hasn’t gotten the memo yet.  They’re hoping to take advantage of the “social space” by asking their “fans” on Facebook, Pinterest etc for help in product planning. The first question that comes to mind is “Why?” Have they not seen the infamous episode of The Simpsons, where Homer designs his own car, leading to the demise of Powell Motors? Do they not know that most of the people who spend their time talking about and looking at pictures of cars online have the most obscure tastes that are not reflective of the general public? Anyone who cares enough is going to agitate for the importation of the Elgrand minivan, or a revival of the Pao microcar, (because “…that’s what Americans should be driving“) or a return to body-on-frame construction for the Pathfinder (even though the new car-based platform will let it be a perfect competitor for the Honda Pilot).

It could be that Nissan, like Mazda, is just going to humor their fans by listening to their input and then do nothing about it. Mazda’s campaign to solicit suggestions for the upcoming MX-5 on Jalopnik was a great way to drum up publicity for the car, but at this point, the MX-5 is too far along in the development cycle for any meaningful changes to happen.

The bigger question for me is, doesn’t Nissan trust their own people to do these kinds of things without input from the unwashed masses? Carlos Ghosn took the company from a bloated, money-hemmoraging industrial heifer into the lean, profitable automaker that exists today. The Nissan folks that I’ve met are reflective of the current state of the company, and come from automotive backgrounds that keyboard jockeys like myself can only dream of.

Letting the customer dictate what they want leads to the current generation Volkswagen Jetta and Passat – although bland, it was needed to help revive VW’s underwhelming success in America. Nissan doesn’t need this. They manage to do big volumes with cars that are genuinely good.

The current generation Altima is both a sales success and responsible for dropping a match in the mid-size horsepower powder keg. Something like the Juke, which is so totally out of left field, and manages to sell fairly consistently (though it’s not exactly a volume car in America), could not have been designed by committee. Meanwhile, the sum total of the general public’s buying desires seem to be Versas or other beige sedans with an iPod jack. And the Sentra is still the worst new car I’ve driven.



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28 Comments on “Why Would Nissan Ask Social Media Users For Product Planning Advice?...”

  • avatar

    Oh boy. Can I ask them to make a clone of a 510? Or a 91 SE-R? The internet is full of wackos.

  • avatar

    It’s all about building relationships with potential customers. Astute product planners might also get a better feel for the needs and perspectives of these customers, if they really do engage with them. Will Nissan people be participating, or just some hired social media specialists?

    Nissan might pick up a good idea or two through these interactions, but this is secondary at best.

    • 0 avatar

      I feel like if a couple dozen Facebook users offer useful input on the DETAILS…something along the lines of “You know how (X)? Why not put a (Y) there, or make it more (Z)?”, than this could be a success. A “You asked, we listened” kinda thing.

      But planning whole MODEL LINES based upon the erratic opinions of the skewed FB masses? Trickier.

      • 0 avatar

        Maybe Nissan is trying to tap into the psyche of the youth since most young people have no, or very little interest in buying cars. This as opposed to people of the baby-boomer generation and their off-spring who couldn’t wait to buy their first brand-new car.

        Several of my granddaughter’s friends do not own a car because “it’s cheaper” that way. They just bum rides from her or their other friends.

        They all have after-school jobs at college, so they’re not hurting for money. They just choose to spend their money on other things like decked-out iPads, data plans and downloads.

      • 0 avatar

        I guess what’s changed is that back then (the 1990s for me) you needed a car to hang with your friends. Now, with enough electronic communications devices you can feel like you’re part of whatever’s happening without actually having to be there every second, and seeing your friends at school or at work is enough.

        In other words, an iPhone solves the same problem as a car (for a teenager), and costs 1/10th or 1/100th as much. That sounds like solid economic reasoning to me.

        If my reasoning correct, members of the smartphone generation will buy cars as soon as cars are a real solution to a problem they personally face. Just like the rest of us, really.

        So, how do you use marketing to sell cars to people who have access to cars but who don’t need one of their own? You don’t. Focus on solving problems that people actually face, and then sell and market that.

  • avatar

    Revive the Figaro and make it RWD with a diesel, obv.

  • avatar

    I don’t care what they do, as long as it has rack and peanut steering.

  • avatar

    Steve Jobs was right when he said, “If Henry Ford had asked customers what they wanted, they would have said, ‘a faster horse.\'”

    • 0 avatar

      Oh come on.

      Did Jobs say “people can have a Mac in any color — so long as it’s white”, too?

      This is a Henry Ford quote. He may or may not have actually said it (seems to be in dispute), but I’m positive that it’s got nothing at all to do with Steve Jobs.

  • avatar

    Oh please, Nissan has no intention of using any Facebook suggestions in the design of their cars unless one of the suggestions is exactly what they were planning in the first place in which case you may see an ad campaing touting how well they listen. They do however want responses from potential customers so they can identify same and inundate them with peripheral targeted ads much like those that populate this website (in my case Hertz and United since I recenlty flew and rented a car). Web 2.0 is at its heart not a paradigm shift but simply a new advertising platform, thats where the money is made, all else is coincidental.

    • 0 avatar

      That certainly is one aspect of this ploy. But that can easily be shot down by the spam filters.

      Every day I find a boatload of messages in my spam folder (today 36). It is rare that I have found any that tickle me enough to want to open them.

      But if I ever need ED drugs or recurring meds from Canadian pharmacies, I have many offers to choose from.

      And having had Altima/CVT rentals on a number of occasions during trips, I’m just not at all into CVTs, no matter what body style they come in.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    There’s a lot smack talked on here talked by some hard core enthusiasts. Just about every brand makes a halo car; some are affordable Mustang/Camaro and some are I won the lottery priced, LFA/SL class.
    I think most car companies make their money from mid size family sedans. The mid size family sedan market offers a variety of choices. I don’t think many car companies would take much advice from internet fan boys when it comes to their bread and butter mid size sedan.

  • avatar

    “Then, most of us woke up and realized that this was all a scheme by a bunch of social maladroits to get rich using our personal data, and we all went back to living our lives.” – AMEN to that, brother!!!

  • avatar

    “I’M RUINED!”

  • avatar

    I’ve worked in home building for nearly 30 years, and I cringe whenever an executive comes back from a conference or retreat and announces we need to do focus groups. Depending on the moderator, we can get an occasional nugget that can be turned into a good idea. But 90% of the feedback we get is impractical or seriously weird.

  • avatar

    They should run a Versa campaign aimed around Britany Spears and roadtrips…

  • avatar

    The important thing here is that they’re having conversations with their customers.

    It isn’t 1999 anymore, and there’s no excuse for not listening to your customers. We all know how easy it is to check e-mail.

  • avatar

    I would second the rebirth of the 1991 SE-R, although with the release of the FRS, they should make it RWD and call it the 510.

    I want to buy a 4cyl coupe with great handling for <=$20k. Big plus if it has an upright greenhouse ala 2002, SE-R, 510. Huge bonus points if it's RWD.

  • avatar

    What they are doing is simply a marketing gimmick. “We asked our customers what they would like to see in our new Super Stovebolt Special…”

  • avatar

    Nobody is really certain how the Internet is going to change our lives in the coming years. Nissan has a toe in the water testing and looking for trends. When a word pops-up so many times on a blog – that’s a trend.

  • avatar

    mmmmmm, Elgrand VIP…

  • avatar

    Derek, your opening paragraph is pure gold. I’m going to clip and save it to share with the hordes of consultants pestering me to develop a social media presence for my company.

    • 0 avatar

      The question is

      How do your customers communicate? You’ve got to make sure that you communicate the same way they do.

      I dropped by a business the other day (a plastic-supply house) that still used phones and old-school faxes as their main method of communication. But the fact is that most of their customers used these as their primary method of communication, so it was the perfect way to keep in touch with their customers.

      On the other hand, if your customers aren’t so old-school, making yourself easy to reach by whatever method they happen to be using would probably be wise.

  • avatar

    Peterbilt trucks are getting design input from the web (via a competition posted on local motors website) so why not marketing input for Nissan automobiles via the web?

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