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General Motors Corp.'s two upscale car divisions, Buick and Cadillac, are putting a bigger emphasis on relationship marketing as a way to ultimately improve customer loyalty.

The idea is to generate repeat business on new-car sales, as well as to keep owners coming back for service and parts, an important part of dealer revenues.

"The challenge for Cadillac and for other manufacturers is to reach out to customers in a highly individualized manner," said John Grettenberger, VP-general manager of Cadillac.

Buick is carrying out the strategy by inviting owners to join a Buick Advisory Council. The program currently is being introduced in two undisclosed test markets and eventually will go national, said Robert Coletta, general sales and service manager.

The council has been devised as a dialogue, letting owners provide feedback on Buick products and services while also agreeing to provide personal information that will enable Buick to design better products and marketing programs around their lifestyles.

"We're trying to change the whole way we do business with our customers, by making them feel part of the Buick family," said Dennis Lovell, Buick's manager-direct marketing. As part of the emphasis on better targeting, Buick is exploring on-line and other interactive media.

The division already offers a computer diskette version of its product catalog, produced by Inmar Group, San Antonio, Texas.

Agency McCann-Erickson Worldwide, Troy, Mich., has redeployed resources to match the changes at Buick, said Sean Fitzpatrick, worldwide exec VP in charge of McCann's GM business. "The way we look at the business today, an agency must have primacy in the traditional advertising areas. But it can't live on that any more."

Cadillac is putting together detailed profiles of its owners and other targets, using GM's master database and information accumulated from event marketing and surveys, said Peter Gerosa, general sales and service manager.

One of the areas Cadillac wants to improve is sales to women and ethnic minorities, with new advertising from D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Bloomfield Hills, Mich., targeting those groups.

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