Editorial: An open letter to Rick Wagoner

Published on .

Dear Mr. Wagoner,

Advertising Age is always pleased to see a CEO recognize the importance of marketing in his or her organization, and in that regard we applaud your decision to assume day-to-day control of General Motors Corp.'s American operations, and have the marketing leadership report to you directly.

But GM's real problems are not the going to be solved by hands-on management, but rather by some tough strategic decision-making by the company's leadership-that's you, Mr. Wagoner.

You must define what each brand in that enormous GM portfolio stands for in meaningful terms that resonate with the consumer. If each of them cannot own a clear, identifiably different position in the marketplace then it is time for some cuts and consolidation in that portfolio of yours.

Perhaps some brands must go. Whatever the decision, GM must get to a point where its brands are taking chunks out of rivals, rather than each other.

Then you have to stop those brands from producing more mediocre products. GM has too many of those already. The emphasis needs to switch to product innovation and design. Especially design.

Each marque needs to do as Cadillac did: Listen to consumers' views on the look of a vehicle. If they like that big, sexy grille, keep it. If they don't like that mundane-looking sedan, don't push it through regardless, as has happened in the past at Pontiac. Go back to the drawing board. Get a new drawing board.

Once GM has good product, pick a price point that is sustainable and make a real commitment to weaning consumers off incentives. Yes, it's going to hurt for a while, but you have to stand up to Wall Street and explain what discounting is doing to your brands, and how that addiction affects the company's bottom line. When it starts to work your rivals will not only follow, they'll thank you.

Everyone admires a man who rolls up his sleeves , Mr. Wagoner, but GM doesn't need you to prowl the halls. It needs you to have the courage to make some tough decisions.

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