Viewpoint: What General Motors' CEO Dan Akerson Should Do Now

Former Head of Automaker's Marketing Suggests the Way Forward

By Published on .

Mike Jackson
Mike Jackson
After two years that were marked by a tremendous amount of upheaval, including coast-to-coast agency shuffling and a long game of musical chairs in the marketing department, it's time for General Motors to focus and get back to business. Here are a couple of things chief Dan Akerson can do now to accomplish what he set out to do a couple of years ago: a better -- maybe even great -- job of marketing its four major brands.

Simplify and streamline
GM has lots of smart people working on its brands -- maybe too many. Pick only the best and brightest (many of whom are right there in Detroit) and turn them loose. Align the organization around global-brand chiefs, empower them -- but hold them accountable and just get out of their way. Protect them from the layers of process that smother, pure, fresh, creative thinking. And, by all means, stop with the decision by committee. They are the enemy of great ideas. Remember, your job is to remove obstacles, so your people can deliver results.

Create solutions, not ads
It seems the automatic answer to every marketing objective or challenge is to make another ad. And the last thing the world needs is another car ad. Instead of coming up with hollow tag lines or spending millions showing off the latest film techniques, why not give some thought to really engaging with customers? It may be something incredibly simple that stimulates genuine relationships with customers more efficiently and more effectively than just "an ad" ... a better buying process, a better distribution idea or a nationally executed "local event."

Speaking of engaging with consumers, reconsider your approach to Facebook. I find it hard to believe that GM marketers cannot partner with Facebook management to create both paid and unpaid solutions that engage consumers on what is unquestionably the most effective social-media platform. I'm sure the the Facebook leadership team values and understands the category. Seems pretty simple to me, and the amount being spent is minuscule as a percent of total measured media.

In contrast, there is the Super Bowl, which is a big-ticket item, to be sure. But it can be worth it. Are you sure that you want to pass up that chance? Just a year ago, GM had five spots, and in light of the important high volume new-product launches in the third, fourth and first quarter of 2012 and 2013, for Chevy and Cadillac, (Silverado, Malibu, next-gen Corvette) why not use the Super Bowl stage to do something innovative? Perhaps these spots can make their debut on the big screens in thousands of theaters Super Bowl weekend. Dare I say, look at what Chrysler did with "Imported from Detroit" -- it was a strategy and positioning vs. merely "cars on roads" ads.

Focus on the customer experience
In today's socially driven world, that potential is enormous. Essentially, engage 21st century word-of -mouth. But, by all means, resist creating an "ad" in this environment, because it won't work. Authentic, relevant and genuine are the real solutions for success. Develop the brand vision from the ground up. Get really close to potential customers. Demand that the ad agencies and marketing teams spend lots of time with dealers. That's the only way to really understand the emotions customers go through when making the decision to have a relationship with your brand. This knowledge is invaluable in creating relevant communications that are not just about what color the dealership carpet should be.

Getting customer input on TV spots and brand direction through focus groups is fine, but it's artificial. It's a long way from the real thing. Getting to know your customer intimately and developing a genuine relationship with them will come naturally.

Product, product, product
We all know that there is no marketing without a great product. The cars and trucks are outstanding. Keep the focus on quality and innovation. If you can focus your marketing team on above points, Dan, you just might achieve your long-time goal.

MIKE JACKSON is a former GM-VP of marketing with experience at global brands such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Coors Brewing. Along with Gary Toploewski, executive creative director at agencies such as Leo Burnett, BBDO, and Chiat/Day, they are partners at Detroit-based advertising agency, Jackson & Partners.
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