AdAge: How Would You Pitch the GM Account?

Published On June 18, 2009 | By mbalogh | Blog

Recently AdAge published an article which posed the question "How Would You Pitch the GM Account? " to several marketing and advertising industry executives.  Many of them had some great ideas.  All of them danced around two core concepts:  1.  Reinvent the company brand through innovation  2. Give the people what they want.  The next question:  how do they do it?  My answer, social media.

The other day I had dinner with a friend of mine who showed off his brand new pair of custom Chucks .  He customized them himself at the Converse website.  He chose the model, color, materials, etc….  Converse built them then shipped the shoes right to his door.  Of course he paid a premium, but he got exactly what he wanted so he didn’t mind.  Now many of his friends are also building custom Chucks.

Compare that experience to my own when I tried to buy a new car.  I’m well researched, so I knew what I wanted and what I wanted to pay when I walked in the door.  But, unfortunately for me, cars are sold like cable TV subscriptions (via packages) so I needed two packages to get everything I wanted.  It didn’t take too long for me to find out that the two packages I wanted were both "regional", and what that meant.  Apparently one package was primarily built and sold in the mid-west so, being on the east coast, it wasn’t available.  The other package was available, but not in conjunction with the first because the two regions typically didn’t cross.  In addition, they did not have any available to ship in any of the colors I hoped for.  To get my car I needed a custom order for which I would, of course, have to pay a premium for a bunch of stuff I didn’t want just to get the stuff I did.   Needless to say, I didn’t buy a car.  In addition I told several people that story.  They will not be buying a car either.

Imagine that.  A customer comes to you, ready to buy, with cash in hand, and you lose the sale.  Contrast that to several customers who knew nothing of a product but got motivated enough to buy based on the recommendation of a satisfied customer.  So what does this mean to GM?

You can market a brand all you want but, in today’s new media rich environment, you can’t even fool some of the people some of the time.  If GM want’s to change their brand, they have to change their company to support the marketing.  Transforming GM is not going to start with designing a new car, it’s going to start with designing a new company.  GM needs to treat the company is if it had failed, because it did, and go from there.  Here’s how:

First, admit old GM failed.  Don’t try to pretend it’s the same company, because it’s not, and nobody knows this better than the taxpayers, also known as customers.  Admitting failure with accomplish two things:

  1. Let the people know GM executives can recognize the obvious.  A big part of branding new GM is regaining the trust of the public, especially with such a public failure.  They know GM failed, it’s no secret .  This is not a "can I hide this " situation.  If GM doesn’t admit it then customers will start to wonder what else GM’s not admitting.  I’m not saying GM needs a Times Square banner that says "we failed", but using terms like "New GM" or calling their vehicles "different, somehow" would go a long way.  Re: Invention is a great start, in name, but it’s been around for a while and the online videos didn’t tell me anything new.  Cadillac’s new headlights may giving a great nighttime signature is nice, but that’s no justification for the bailout.  Tell me what’s new.  What’s different.  What did our tax dollars get us that we didn’t have before.
  2. Allow GM to start from scratch.  Old GM failing paves the way for New GM to succeed.  Trying to merge the two will only drag out the negative.  GM needs to let their customers know this bailout was a good choice, it was not for nothing, and GM is not just going to fail again in a few months by doing the same thing.

Next, run an open company.  Like it or not, taxpayers (aka customers) are under the impression that the government is financing a sinking ship with taxpayer money.  Money they (the customers) earned.  Now they want to know what’s being done with it.  They want to have a voice and they want to be informed.  Put them off and they will develop negative feelings.  Bring them in and make them feel like they are part of something, something new, something that will be great, and they will develop a sense of ownership and pride.  Strictly from a brand management perspective, I’d opt for the latter and new media is the perfect way to communicate.

GM needs to reinvent "Re: Invention", and they have to go further.  I see youTube style videos, but I don’t see anything new in the content.  I see a twitter account, but most of what I’m getting is either not new or an advertisement to take a test drive.  I know I can take a test drive, GM doesn’t need to tell me that 3 times a day on twitter.  Tell me something that makes me want to take a test drive.  Anything (mpg, etc…) short of best on the market leaves the customer the option to buy the best on the market instead.  Engage the customers and find out what they want.  New media is a two way street.  It’s not a megaphone, it’s a conversation.  It’s about cultivating relationships, not advertising to customers.

Next it’s time to restructure manufacturing.  Share more parts across models and restructure manufacturing to support flexible, scalable, responsive, and more efficient production.  You may have heard this before, it’s a great cost saving measure, but I’m not talking about cost saving.  I’m talking about increasing customer benefit by engaging the long tail of transportation.  I’m talking about re-engineering how the parts themselves fit together.  Why?  So they can take advantage of new marketing.  So they can give the customer exactly what they want.

We’ve all said GM should build a car people want to buy, the problem is identifying that car.  What are the features?  No one knows.  No one knows because it’s different for everyone.  Once again, there is a "best " set of features, but even the best is no where near as good as the sum total of all the other possibilities.  So why not offer all of them?

Those of us in technology like to utilize Service-Oriented Architectures (SOA ) to loosely couple various distinct functions so they can be easily combined later to form an application, sometimes called a mash-up .  Where SOA is software engineering, the same principle holds true for hardware.  If, for example, two engines connect up to two transmissions the same way, that’s already four configurations you can offer your customers.  Four configurations you can offer via new media technology, just like my friend’s custom Chucks.  It’s worth noting that currently there is a virtual car builder on Chevrolet’s website but, after entering my information, all it really tells me is the car I want is not in any local inventory and gives my information to dealers so they can try to sell me something I don’t want.  New media is not about customers making exceptions.

GM cannot change their marketing unless they change their company, their product, and and their manufacturing.  The bottom line is old GM failed so it’s going to take a lot to reinvent new GM.  Play off that.  Take this failure, this lack of expectation, and see it for the new media opportunity it is.  Everyone loves when the underdog wins but, for that to happen, you have to be the underdog first.

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