The 'new' GM is empowering customers to shape its story

With media coverage easing about its financial woes, General Motors is touting new brand campaigns to reinvigorate its troubled reputation.

With media coverage easing about its financial woes, General Motors is touting new brand campaigns to reinvigorate its troubled reputation. Since emerging from Chapter 11 in July, GM has been promoting itself as a “new” company. It has unveiled a series of initiatives to position itself as customer focused and innovative.

In August, for example, GM launched the “230” campaign for the Chevy Volt that claimed the forthcoming electric car would get 230 miles per gallon. In the same month, it debuted The Lab, a Web site, with the tagline

“We want your opinion.” The site shares design concepts with the public and solicits feedback.

Power of listening
Terry Rhadigan, North American product communications director, tells PRWeek that positioning GM as a customer-focused brand is a top priority, in addition to shifting the spotlight away from the larger company and to its four remaining brands – Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC, and Buick.

“We recently hosted an event in the Detroit area. We brought in 100 potential customers, many of them had been very critical,” he says. “We wanted to display current products, but we also wanted to listen. That's key right now.”

To demonstrate this “listening” approach, Rhadigan notes that when consumers' response to the conceptual Buick crossover vehicle was strongly negative, GM scrapped plans for it. Moreover, GM opened the Detroit event to customers before the press, which also signifies its changing priorities, as it now communicates directly with consumers on a regular basis through the Web.

“If we have an event open to the media and it's an opportunity to also bring in customers – we're probably going to do it again,” Rhadigan says, adding that press-only events will also remain.

While touting this “new” GM, the carmaker also recognizes the heavy baggage it carries. As such, it is quietly disconnecting its individual brands from the corporate one. For example, GM announced it would drop the “Mark of Excellence” logo from its vehicles to let its brands stand on their own.

“People may have been disappointed with GM because we needed the bridge loan from the government,” Rhadigan says. “But there wasn't that same disappointment with individual brands.”

No ‘superstars'
This “new” attitude is also evident in GM's social media strategy, says Chris Barger, global social media director.

“It should be about the entire organization,” he notes. “Rather than one superstar with 40,000 followers on Twitter, I'd rather have 400 people with 100 followers each so that more people are talking directly to people.”

Mark Scott, media relations manager at Autotrader.com, says GM is on the right track by offering people more ways to get information, especially since buyers now tend to research car purchases very closely and US automakers are under even more scrutiny.

“The Lab and ‘230' campaigns were seeded on the Internet and have been pushed around Twitter, Facebook, and to influencers,” he adds. “Sure, there need to be glossy ads for awareness. But information will get people to go down to the dealership.”

While the GM brand has some equity, Scott notes, the public is more drawn to the nostalgia and stories behind the brands. The 2010 Chevy Camaro, for example, is designed to evoke the legendary 1969 model – and has been garnering positive coverage among the media and public.

“If you have a really great story and tell it correctly, people are receptive,” he explains. “That gives you the opportunity to change brand perception more quickly than people might think.” L


GM'S brand messaging

Chevrolet
Positioning: core global brand
Messages: fuel economy, performance, and value

Cadillac
Positioning: luxury brand
Messages: dramatic design, technology innovation

Buick
Positioning: premium “near luxury” brand
Messages: affordable pricing and design

GMC

Positioning: trucks
Messages: Long history with trucks, durability, engineering know-how

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