The Marketing Disaster That Is GM

Like so many big companies that lost their way, General Motors has for years now missed the boat on its marketing. Nobody knows what the GM brands stand for or what their products represent in the minds of buyers. Remember the phrase “brand loyalty”? Nobody loves these cars, and few really want them.

Does the company really think that social media can solve its problems?

Toyota and Volkswagen buyers know what their cars stand for. Even Ford is gaining recognition that its cars have particular value: The company just took top honors for the Fusion Hybrid and Transit Connect at the Detroit Auto Show’s North American Car and Truck of the Year Awards—a recognition by journalists of the uniqueness of those cars.

Marketing is, simply, finding and getting customers who want your products. It’s not advertising—which is reaching and talking with those customers and prospects. Marketing is complicated, because it involves every aspect of the business. In an astute article on the GM debacle, Al Ries wrote,

Marketing is focused internally and attempts to set up a dialog with top management in order to develop a product or a service “with a story.”

Without a story, no advertising, no matter how brilliant, is going to work.

BMW’s story is “driving.” Toyota’s story is “reliability.” Mercedes’ story is “prestige.”

Betcha can’t name the story of any GM brand, since they try to be all things to all people. When GM put Bob Lutz, a product guy, in charge of marketing, it indicated how far off the track the company was. All he talked about was advertising and telling people what great products GM was now building.

There was and is no story. Last Thursday, we mentioned Audi’s successful strategies to take market share in a bad economic climate. They did it by taking risks: among them, hiring a doc-filmmaker to cover the Le Mans race (which Audi happened to win), getting the footage on ESPN, and promoting clean diesel to select markets (message: get off imported oil). The focus was consistently on the unique personality, the story of their cars.

What does GM do? Promotes its cars with a ridiculous Volt Dance and offers financing gimmicks and costly incentives, guarantees, buybacks, and other schemes. Here are three ideas they could try to bring back the “romance of the car” (and I won’t charge them anything):

  • Plan and develop a campaign using GM workers building and talking about GMC trucks to tell the story of their engineering and toughness; use a doc-film approach.
  • Show the Chevrolet line as an outgrowth of its history, linking the new cars to historic Chevy models (they did this once with the Suburban); buy and put old Chevys with new Chevys in the showrooms.
  • Capitalize on the old-fogey Buick image and show old guys driving new cars like the Regal GS on the track; put Lutz behind the wheel (as he did with the CTS-V), and have him spiel; use AARP and similar venues for PR and ads. Done right, these images will appeal to younger people as well.

Have you got other ideas on how to bring GM out of the marketing doldrums? Let’s hear them!

—jgoods

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