Friday, December 11, 2009

Free Idea Friday

 Ideas are easy. Execution is hard. Every Friday I will share an idea that's been rolling around in my head that I have neither the time nor the where-with-all to execute. Remember, it's free, so take it for what it's worth.

Is GM Ready To Cruze?

In Q3 of 2010, General Motors will launch it’s latest Corolla/Civic fighter, the Chevy Cruze. The first major new product to debut since GM’s bankruptcy and restructuring, it’s not an overstatement to say that this is a make or break product for the “New” GM. In order to make sure the launch is successful, GM has broken with its past and thrown a creative jump ball to advertising agencies across the country to see who will have the honor of introducing the Cruze to the public. Good luck with that.

This isn’t 1970 when people had a positive impression of Chevrolet, and you could roll out a new car knowing they would at least give it a look. Today Chevrolet ranks well behind Toyota and Honda in brand perception. Changing perceptions takes time, unless you’re willing to do something radical. And having a different agency create your ad campaign isn’t radical.

It’s time for an intervention.

What GM must do is demonstrate that the Cruze is as good or better than the Corolla and Civic to the very people most likely to buy those other brands. So here’s my idea.

Take 1% of the first year’s projected production, that’s 2,500 cars, and put them in the hands of Toyota and Honda owners for free.

There are only two stipulations. The first is that they have to write a weekly blog about their experience with the car. No editing, no censoring, just their unvarnished truth. The second is that they have to give up their Corolla or Civic. After 90 days, the owners have the option of keeping the Cruze or getting their old car back.

The upside? They have the potential to convert 2,500 competitive owners into Chevy evangelists. The national publicity from giving away 2,500 cars will be huge. (Remember the firestorm of publicity Pontiac received from giving away 276 cars on Oprah.) And when a greater percentage of people decide to keep the Cruze rather than return it, there's another big PR opportunity.

The key is to have a complete program in place to build on the buzz created by the initial announcement. In order to do that, Chevrolet should set up a specific blog site that’s easy to find, something like “”, give each participant a Flip video camera so they can easily create and upload videos of their experiences, allowing them to tell their stories and show others the Cruze has the features they need, is fun to drive, efficient, of high quality, and that the ownership experience is every bit as good as you would expect from Honda and Toyota.

The downside? The Cruze doesn’t live up to its promise and GM dies a quicker death than it would have otherwise. 

If GM truly believes in this new nameplate, then it's a bet worth making.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

When Innovation Lags, Prices Fall

While many are blaming this year's lackluster holiday sales season on the economy (and believe me, I know it's an issue), there's another factor at work here. According to Ebay's CEO, there just aren't very many killer new products that people have to have. In year's past we had new items consumers craved like the Xbox, iPhone, and GPS systems. This year the only new present that seems to be hot is Zhu Zhu. And if you don't have kids, you don't care.

So consequently we're all out looking for a cheaper GPS, a cheaper LCD TV, a cheaper gaming system. It shows in the numbers. This year, according to NPD Group, black Friday sales were up about half a percent, but revenue was down over one percent. Basically, more people were buying cheaper stuff. Meanwhile, parents and grandparents are lining up to pay forty bucks or more for a mechanical hamster (Really? Is this the best we can do?). The lesson here is that people get excited about two things when shopping: New or Deals. If you're not giving them new, be prepared to give them a deal.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I Was Wrong.

Shortly after making his pro debut at the Greater Milwaukee Open, I wrote a memo to my client at Oscar Mayer suggesting that they get on board early with Tiger Woods and work with him to develop programs that would help kids build self esteem and see new possibilities for themselves (and of course sell a little bologna and a few hot dogs along the way). Well, 13 years later they're looking pretty smart for ignoring my advice.

That's the problem with the celebrity endorsement, one of the mainstays of American marketing, sooner or later everybody does something stupid or worse. In today's world where we all live in glass houses, there is no place to hide. So before you hop into bed with the movie star du jour, sports legend or musical genius, you may want to know who else he or she has been sleeping with. Better yet, figure out how to make your brand famous without borrowing fame from someone else. The reputation you save, may just be your own.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Strategy Laid Bare (Almost)

One of the most important aspects of strategy is knowing who your target is and who it is not. You can't mean something to everyone, so you better mean everything to someone. Such is the case with a few entrepreneurs that have decided to innovate in their categories by focusing on the hormonally active, serving their products with a side of skin. I'm not sure I'd recommend this as a business strategy for an accounting or law firm, but one thing's for sure, it's certainly going to generate buzz. Okay, so this is a crass example, appealing to the basest level of man's desire, but the principle here is solid.

Build fundamental differentiation into your business that's incredibly meaningful to a significant slice of your potential customer base and don't worry about anyone else. If you own a coffee shop and you get a majority of men 15 - 45 coming into your store every morning, you can probably make a living good living. Who cares if your mother, wife or members of the Mormon Church would never go there? Seth Godin calls this being a Purple Cow. Adam Morgan refers to it as creating a Lighthouse Brand. Whatever you call it, it's smart marketing. The pantheon of brands that have foundered by trying to be popular by not offending people is long and filled with storied names: Oldsmobile, Pan Am, Montgomery Wards, Howard Johnson's.

Don't become one of them. Differentiate or die.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Advertising Is The Match That Lights The Fire.

It used to be that advertising was your marketing campaign. You ran a commercial and people beat a path to your door. (Anybody remember 1984?)

Now advertising is just the start. If you're not prepared to back your ads up with strong PR, promotions, and online/social components, don't even bother. Nowhere is that better illustrated than with Super Bowl advertising. Yes, you have to have a great ad that stands out from the crowd. Yes, you must communicate the positioning and benefits of your brand. If that's all you do, however, especially on Super Bowl Sunday, you may as well just take $3 million and flush it down the toilet.

Snow Day Special Extra!
In honor of the first real day of snow in Sheboygan, here's a link to an article I wrote for Winding Road magazine about the Bridgestone Winter Driving School. Enjoy.