Tuesday, September 4, 2012

What GM must do to lead

GM is struggling.

Even though the company is building cars that critics say are every bit as good as their U.S., European and Asian competitors, its brands just can't seem to recapture their mojo.

You can't blame it on GM's "American" identity. Ford sales, while having plateaued lately, have been moving in the right direction for years.

It's not the "Government Motors" stigma. Chrysler is fast on the rebound. They've already sold more cars in the first seven months of this year than they did in all of 2009.

Yet in a market that's up 14% overall this year, Chevrolet sales are up just 5%, Buick's are down 5% and Cadillac's have fallen 13%.

So what's holding GM back?

Chevrolet, Buick and Cadillac.

Just what do these brands stand for?

I'm a Detroit native, a 30-year veteran of the advertising industry who spent a third of that time creating advertising in Detroit, and I can't tell you.

Chevy Runs Deep

Cadillac, The New Standard of the World

Buick, Luxury as it should be

None of these taglines shed any real light as to what's at the soul of each brand. None define the expectation of the experience behind the wheel. None create a memorable position that gives anyone a reason to chose that particular brand over any competitive offering.

But it's not the agencies' fault.

GM needs to define these brands in a way that's clear, concise, differentiating and eternal.

They dropped Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Saturn and Saab to make this easier, yet two years into the new GM, nothing has changed. In fact it may have gotten worse. The brands seem to have expanded their scope to attract the orphan customers of their retired brethren, muddying the waters even further.

It's not 1924 anymore. GM can't offer "A car for every purse and purpose." The competition is too intense and consumers are too sophisticated. It's time to define what each brand does best and rebuild from there.

Until that happens, even the best cars in the world may not be able to save their brands.

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