“GM must change perception to halt decline”


This bit of understatement came from Steven Rattner and was quoted in a July 6th article in Automotive News.  He went on to say that “There’s often a lag between perception and reality.”  He was referring to the “fact” that GM’s products  and product quality would surprise many people.  Based on JD Power’s most recent IQS study where both Cadillac (#3) and Chevy (#9) were well above industry average, he seems to have point.  GMC and Buick were just a couple of notches below average.  By the way, the GM brands are ahead of many well respected marques like Audi, Volvo, Subaru, Jeep and Mini.

So, as the new GM comes out of its speedy bankruptcy there seems to be general acknowledgement that it needs to deal with this “perception problem” which means that the marketers are going to get their chance to help change the fortunes of GM.

Another Automotive News article declared:  “The New GM needs marketing blitz, experts say.”  The question that comes to mind is what is the “marketing blitz” going to consist of.  There’s a body of opinion that says that GM should lower its prices to get people in the showroom where they will see the quality of the products and be compelled to buy.  Some folks are suggesting that the message should be “Come give us a chance and see what we’ve got, because we’re going to grow.”  Others are saying that GM needs to take advantage of a growing “new nationalism” and Americans’ willingness to buy American.

This sounds to me like Detroit pulling pages from its traditional playbook.  What happened to “re-invention.”

Clearly pricing needs to be competitive.  But I sure wouldn’t make pricing the focus of the communications.  There’s no news there, show me one American who doesn’t know that this is a great time to buy a car…particularly a car from GM!  I also think it’s true that many Americans would like to buy a domestic product, Ford seems to be capitalizing on this sensibility.

Pricing and appealing to nationalism won’t close the perception problem.  Consumers need to know why they should perceive these brands differently.  GM needs to step back, do a clear-eyed assessment of their brands’ positioning, make sure they are differentiated versus their competitive set, and then use communications to clearly establish these brands in consumers’ minds.

While they’re at it, management of the new GM needs to bring outside perspective and creative thinking to this strategic discussion: outside consultants, new agencies, new marketing people.  This body of work must be done quickly, it must be done well and then it must be executed.  You only have one chance to be “new” (sort of).

Rattner et al rejected GM’s financial plan and forced the development of a new one that they thought could work.  The same principle needs to be applied to the marketing plans.  There is no reason to suspect that any “re-invention” of marketing will take place without new input.

I understand the importance of getting people into showrooms and generating sales but doing it based on price or begging people to “buy American” is not a strategy.  Short term tactics are not going to change the perception of the GM brands.  Marketing needs to differentiate these brands and establish a long term platforms on which to build a loyal following for each.

We’re still waiting for signs of “re-invention,” signs that someone recognizes the need for new thinking.  The idea that pricing and begging will lead to an appreciation of the product and a shift in perception is more of the same.  Where is the “re-invention?”

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