Combination of messaging for GM key to regaining consumer confidence

General Motors Corp. (GM) entered the second largest bankruptcy filing in industrial history on June 1.

General Motors Corp. (GM) entered the second largest bankruptcy filing in industrial history on June 1. With this change, the company has a chance to move forward with its strongest offerings and resell itself to an American public who awaited its large scale demise.

Regaining consumer confidence is the new GM's first order of business, and it will take a combination of corporate, financial, and product communications to do so.

Steve Harris, GM's VP of global communications, tells PRWeek, “I'd be lying if I didn't say there was a dichotomy of opinion within the organization [concerning], ‘Do we focus on the four brands that we go to market as or do we focus more on GM [corporate]?'”

The company “cannot afford not to pay attention to the GM brand,” notes Harris, as currently products have a better rating than the corporate brand.

“Initial advertising is out there helping to reassure people that they can be comfortable purchasing a vehicle from [GM],” Harris says. “Then, we'll transition more to what the future of GM is going to look like.”

GM recently launched its Reinvention campaign, with advertising and branded sites explaining the company's current progress and putting to the forefront the company's key message embedded in the new tagline of “leaner, greener, faster, smarter.”

Lynne Doll, president and partner at The Rogers Group, believes these key messages, and in particular the adjectives of leaner and greener, are strategic and hit on trends currently resonating with consumers.

However, “[consumers will be] skeptical to see if they deliver,” Doll says. “Demonstrating how they are [different] is going to be paramount for GM.”

She adds that while the corporate messaging is important, GM will have to soon turn its attention to product communications.

“They have to set a foundation that the company GM is going to be around in whatever configuration, but then they have to move quickly to brand messages because I believe that consumers don't buy GM,” she says. “They buy brands.”

The new GM must stand out, but also control its own communications, despite being in the difficult position of having the government as a key stakeholder. President Obama's voice was overwhelmingly heard during the decision to maintain the company's current corporate headquarters, says Thomas Graham, president of Cohn & Wolfe Austin.

In terms of corporate repositioning, “GM has to take control of its own message back from the government,” Graham says.

Michael Robinson, SVP at Levick Strategic Communications, notes that GM needs to marry its financial story with the importance of buying an American-made vehicle.

“What they have to do is get away from the corporate brand and move into Chevy, Buick, [and other individual brands], the things the consumer can see, feel, or touch," he adds.

“It's about rebuilding bridges with the American car-buying public,” says Jan Hausrath, SVP at APCO Worldwide, who emphasizes that the bottom line for “presenting a vibrant, energetic face to the market” remains with the company's products.

In addition to ramping up social media capabilities, reaching out to younger consumers and putting cars in the hands of influencers are key to creating a tipping point, according to Hausrath.

“They need buzz and to reignite the romance of owning [a GM brand vehicle],” she adds.

Along with increased social media initiatives, the company “has not backed off” of its product promotions, according to Harris, and has several upcoming launches, including the Camaro, Buick LaCrosse, and eventually the long-awaited Chevy Volt.

With the new GM beginning to emerge, GM's Harris remains optimistic about the company's ability to reach the American consumer.

“There's a lot of animosity out there about government support [and] those who disagree [with our position],” Harris says. “Certainly, if we ever wanted the spotlight, we have it.”

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