Mahindra NA has chosen Jay Litsey as its new vice president of marketing and strategic planning, replacing Cleo Franklin, who held the position for 6 years and is now supporting special projects and business development in Mexico and Brazil.

In the news releases announcing Litsey, Mani Iyer referred to his expertise in transportation (Ford and Shell) and consumer goods marketing (Cocoa-Cola and Cadbury), but he’s fresh to the agricultural equipment world. That could be a benefit in terms of new ideas, but Litsey will need to learn the market quickly as new model launches are happening now and will peak in a few months.

We spoke with Litsey about what he is focusing on now. He was careful about sharing specifics, but he did share comments about his first 90 days. “I'd say the biggest thing is I need to immerse myself. I've always been a big believer that everything starts within insights, externally first and then internally. I’m trying to learn the consumer and then work my way backward — consumer, dealer, sales force, and then my own team,” he says.

Branding is top of mind for Litsey and he refers to Mahindra as a “challenger” brand in the U.S. He credits the work Mahindra has already been doing in terms of branding and communications. “A lot of great things are in place. Are there areas to maybe focus a little bit more on the consumer? That’s possible,” he says. “My gut is that this is more of an evolution than a revolution.”

As part of his Mahindra immersion, Litsey is visiting a wide range of dealers. “In the old days, we would take Ford executives on what used to be called ‘the milk run,’ where it would just be the greatest dealers who were very positive. I’ve asked for no milk run,” he says.

Litsey and his team will carry on with initiatives launched last year including improvements to its tractor ordering system and increased resources in service, product development, dealer development, parts, sales and marketing.

The results of the upcoming Equipment Dealers Assn.’s Dealer-Manufacturer Relations survey will show whether those initiatives have made a difference with dealers. In the 2017 survey, Mahindra ranked 5th in overall satisfaction among the 10 tractor manufacturers. (Watch for our summer issue and our analysis of the rankings.)

“There’s the practicality of us ‘plussing up’ our digital communications staff and inherent in digital is not just business-to-consumer solutions, but also B-to-B solutions. There may be some messaging that comes out about us bringing out some new tools for dealers that can help them communicate to consumers, track them better, and probably close more of them,” he says.

Litsey says he’s a “practical marketer,” explaining that he doesn’t seek to create campaigns to win awards, but to drive traffic to dealerships. For instance, he says the Mahindra customer base is very patriotic, so an upcoming dealer campaign will be to give a flag to those customers who test drive a machine.

“Some companies are operations led, some are sales led and some are brand led. My bias, obviously, is evolving toward Mahindra becoming brand led because I think that’s how you create the most value and differentiation over time,” Litsey says.

Dealers may differ in their view as branding can be one of those elusive topics that is often pushed aside because of daily sales and operations challenges. That’s something dealers can no longer do — and dealership branding is even more important than manufacturer branding. Customers may enter your store because of your manufacturer’s brand promise, but they buy because of your dealership’s brand promise.

Mahindra dealers, what do you think? What would you like to see from Litsey and his team? And, for those dealers who sell other lines, keep an eye on branding campaigns hitting your markets.