Maserati CEO explains your company’s most underrated marketing weapon

Davide Grasso is a quiet force to be reckoned with among the business elite. His portfolio reads like a roll call of the world’s most influential brands – two decades at the helm of Nike’s marketing division, three years as CEO and President of Converse, and today, the CEO of the legendary Italian brand, Maserati.

While his credentials could make for a lucrative biography, the reality is that Grasso has weathered one of the most daunting business climates since taking the top job at the luxury carmaker in 2019 – the year that the pandemic first took hold of the world and wreaked havoc with the economic equilibrium. Most outsiders wouldn’t have noticed these obstacles considering the Italian company’s impressive market position just a few years on.

“Two years ago, we were struggling, and with the support globally and through the region, we’ve really turned things around,” Grasso says.

“Last month, we increased [sales] by 20 per cent versus January last year, so we’re certainly going very well regarding the brand and MC20 – that vehicle has a solid order bank. The next customer order will take delivery in 2023. I think that’s a real sign of the strength of the brand, to have a number of people wanting the product and willing to wait 12 months to get it”.

‘Sold out’ isn’t a statement that comes easy for exotic cars during an economic slowdown, but it is undoubtedly a good problem to have. This is especially true under the careful eye of Grasso who has built his entire career around proven marketing strategies.

Today, he reveals to The CEO Magazine his greatest marketing secrets and how he plans to capture a rapidly shifting consumer market while keeping the competition at bay amid an electric car revolution.

Inside the mind of a marketing maestro

Marketing world-class sporting apparel seemingly has more in common with luxury sports cars than most would think. After studying business and economics at university, Grasso embarked on a marketing career in fashion and apparel. He’d eventually earn a coveted role at Nike in the mid-1990s, a workplace where he’d nurture his craft for what laid ahead.

“Ever since my first job, I have always dealt with marketing, brand promotions and product launches; discussing alternative ways to respect the brand while looking at how marketing and innovation can drive brand growth.”

This same concept of innovative branding was brought over to Maserati and is now at the heart of how the company has fast-tracked growth and market share regardless of the economic environment. The secret? A meticulous understanding of one’s customer.

“You have to listen to the customer, and you have to provide value to their lives every time they interact with our product or services. And that’s what we’re doing day in, day out.”

“The 20 years spent with Nike can be summarized with one lesson: serve the consumer. At Maserati, it means: serve the driver and the passenger.

“You have to listen to the customer, and you have to provide value to their lives every time they interact with our product or services. And that’s what we’re doing day in, day out.”

Grasso also emphasizes the important distinction between gaining insight and merely observing what customers do.

“World-class brands develop great insights; average or mediocre brands have observations. The long-term growth is ensured by the visceral knowledge of your customer, which comes from a deep insight.”

On a more pragmatic level, Grasso seems to know exactly what Maserati stands for today and in the future – and he’s got the sales figures to back it up.

“The values ​​of the brand are timeless and universal, and can be played with,” he says.

“However, we must respect Maserati in a way that the brand remains accepted by the market, the dealers and, at the end of the day, respected around the world by the customer. Our heritage defines the brand and the art of automotive throughout the decades.”

Beware the traps of leadership

With an extensive career forged under the wing of world-class companies, it’s right to assume that Grasso has seen both the good and bad of top-tier business management. The biggest malpractice, he reveals, is intrinsic.

“The most common mistake is not respecting the brand. Every day, our biggest mission is to shape and sharpen our brand. I wouldn’t only call it a challenge, more so a mantra. That’s what respecting the brand means to me.

“Entering a new era like Maserati did two years ago, it’s easy to see everything that we – as marketing people – can or should change. However, the difficult part lies in understanding why all this hadn’t been changed sooner and what can be done
without neglecting what our predecessors bequeathed to us.

“I genuinely believe that the worst mistake is not taking the opportunity to look to the future with audacity and confidence. As someone once said, the best way to predict our future is to create it together, and that’s how our team works at Maserati.”

And creating their own future is exactly what Maserati and Grasso are doing right now, instead of awaiting the fate of the traditional sports car.

Engineering the future of luxury sports cars

“Within a little more than two years, all Maserati models will come with combustion engines as well as the full electric version. A couple of years later, only fully electric options will be available,” Grasso says.

“We have world-class, benchmark electrification technology which brings the brand to the top of the automotive world in the electrification and digitalized driving space. There’s no question about it.”

“I don’t want to give away too much, but when you talk about seats and interior of the cars, we are developing a range of high-quality materials – like using nylon, which is recovered from fishing nets.”

The MC20 model, which has exhausted its 2022 customer allocations, will be the first sports car of its kind to be engineered to receive both electric and internal combustion power units.

“We’re looking at sustainability holistically. One piece is the motor or the power system. And there are a lot of other elements, including materials. I don’t want to give away too much, but when you talk about seats and interior of the cars, we are developing a range of high-quality materials – like using nylon, which is recovered from fishing nets, for example.

“We have collaborations in the works with textile companies that are testing and using recycled materials and recycled natural materials. For automotive, this needs to be tested specifically because we have some very high-level requirements from a fire management standpoint among other things.”

Perfecting performance under pressure

With any high-profile role comes significant pressure from the day-to-day operations and eventual sales targets – all of which fall onto Grasso’s shoulders. It’s a prestigious title that may even inspire a new generation, but alas, this modest CEO is quick to deflect any accolades when it comes to encouraging others to follow in his footsteps.

“I wouldn’t claim any responsibility for inspiring people who want to take a path like mine,” he laughs. “I would sooner talk about leadership, something that everyone needs to move forward day by day, because nothing matters unless we all fulfill our responsibility.

“Every single one of us has something we’re good at. Leadership means a strong focus on execution with speed and precision, and setting high standards in everything we do.

“This is my advice: develop your talents and follow your dreams with determination and passion.”

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