How Yamaha changed its tune with its digital transformation strategy

Yamaha Corp., the music side of the Yamaha brand, has been through more change during the last year and a half than it has experienced its entire 138 year history, according to the company’s marketing technology strategy manager Athan Billias.

Billias has played an integral role in ushering in Yamaha’s digital transformation efforts during the last 18 months. He says digital transformation is really about changing your mindset to be truly customer-centric — changing how you think about marketing in a very fundamental way.

Transitioning to an emotional brand

A few years ago, Yamaha decided it wanted to connect directly with its customers instead of relying on dealers for all of its customer communications. It also realized it was time to begin listening to its customers instead of pushing out messaging based on what the brand wanted to say.

“It’s interesting because Yamaha, like many companies, is a very engineering-driven company,” said Billias, “What we spent a lot of time doing is actually talking at our customers, not with our customers — we would give them messages that we thought were important, rather than listing to them.”

Watch Athan Billias’ Discover MarTech presentation “How Yamaha Connects Directly With Their Customers.”

Building a customer-centric martech stack

Billias said the transition meant the brand had to move away from being a “factual and rational” brand to become more emotional. To begin this process, the company began using Qualtrics voice of customer solution and implemented Lytics’ customer data platform.

“We want to know our customers so deeply that we can connect with them on an emotional level. It seems counter intuitive, but you have to use data to know your customers, to be able to address them in an emotional way — that’s why a customer data platform is so important.”

Billias says his team’s CDP sits at the center of everything the brand does. The platform allows Yamaha to segment its audiences and personalize its marketing messaging and ads.

“We use segmentation that’s built into Lytics to build lookalike audiences in different ad platforms [YouTube, Facebook, Google] so we’re not just spraying out ads, we’re using data to control the ads being served,” said Billias.

With the CDP at its center, Billias’ martech stack is built around the customer journey using a variety of tools, including ad platforms, an email marketing solution, e-commerce tools, a CRM and social media management platform. Yahama also has a homegrown application for managing customer preferences and profiles.

“My rule of thumb is: Select the right tools, connect the right tools, prototype solutions, document the process and help people manage change.”

It’s not about the tools

Yamaha’s marketing organization is made up of 85 people who, according to Billias, have varying skillsets in terms of the brand’s marketing technology platforms. When building out his martech stack, Billias makes sure the tools he implements include adequate end-user support.

“We have almost 100 people who are using these tools — they need to be able to go on a website to get answers on what the platform can do without always having to email me,” said Billias.

In the end, Billias says digital transformation isn’t about the tools — it’s really about the people.

“One of the jobs you have as the evangelist for digital transformation is helping people deal with change — helping people to absorb the tools and helping people really change the way that they think about how to do business.”

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About The Author

Amy Gesenhues is a senior editor for Third Door Media, covering the latest news and updates for Marketing Land, Search Engine Land and MarTech Today. From 2009 to 2012, she was an award-winning syndicated columnist for a number of daily newspapers from New York to Texas. With more than ten years of marketing management experience, she has contributed to a variety of traditional and online publications, including MarketingProfs, SoftwareCEO, and Sales and Marketing Management Magazine. Read more of Amy’s articles.

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