Monthly Archives: July 2009

Five Suggestions for Bob Lutz

Dear Mr. Lutz,

Congratulations and condolences on your new role. It’s exciting and fraught with peril. This is the chance to do things right, and show the world that the “new” GM is something more than a hollow, feeble version of the old company. You don’t know me, and you never will, but I would like to offer some free advice. You see, I really want you to succeed. Although I am not an automotive marketing expert, it occurs to me that GM has done nothing but listen to automotive marketing experts for decades, and where did it get you?

So here are a few ideas that you might want to consider as you begin to turn this battleship around:

1. Simplify. What is Chevrolet? There are 19 different nameplates, and that doesn’t count all the hybrid versions, varieties of horsepower and coupes vs. sedans. You have beginner cars and mid-price cars and SUV’s and muscle cars and sports cars. And now you want to bring in the G-8 from Pontiac. Who can keep track of all of those? And who can afford to market all of them? GMC = trucks. I get that. That works better.

2. Think about women. A lot. My 17 year old daughter doesn’t think that cars are for guys. When she turned 16, she spent countless hours on-line researching cars. And she wasn’t just looking for cool colors. She had makes and models down cold. My niece had no fear of a manual transmission, because for her it meant she could get more car for less money. As for me, I am addicted to the Cars section of the Sunday New York Times. Women have huge purchasing power, we know how to do our homework, and we don’t like the perception of  a “boys club”. Make sure you have women in senior roles at each of your ad agencies. Believe me, when campaigns are created by men, for men, it shows.

3. Forge a new path. Don’t say that you want Buick to be “like Lexus”. Maybe the world doesn’t need another Lexus. Explore new categories. Surprise and delight us.

4. Worry less about “crafting messages” and more about having a conversation with your customers and prospects. This is hard for marketers who are used to owning the brand. Let go. It’s a transparent world and one individual opinion–good or bad–can literally be heard around the world. Good brands are essentially tribal. Find your tribes and tap into their enthusiasm. And for heaven’s sake, remember your employees. We have all seen what bitter, overworked, stressed-out employees can do in the airline industry .

5. Think service. Long after the sale, the car owner’s only contact is with service people. To the extent that you can control the service departments at dealerships, ensure that these experiences are good ones. You probably can control your corporate customer care centers, and these should be staffed with people who adore your cars, know how to tap additional resources, deal with cranky or frustrated people, and are empowered to take action when it is warranted.

That’s all for now. Five things is all anyone can remember anyway.

We’re rooting for you!

Warm regards,



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Filed under Brand strategy, General Marketing

The Five Keys to Employee Brand Engagement

I have a bit of an obsession on the subject of how employees, the corporate brand, and “engagement” all fit together–or not.

First, a definition is in order: Employee brand engagement is the positive emotional connection between employees and their company through the brand, and the extension of the brand experience to customers.

This can be confusing, because in any given company there are so many different initiatives–employee engagement, employer branding, corporate values, marketing taglines, brand attributes and positioning, and so on. It’s a welter of unconnected concepts. In the US, in particular, these different initiatives are “owned” by different silos. HR, Marketing, Corporate Communications, Internal Communications. What I am talking about is the emerging need to connect the dots between employee engagement programs (which tend to be inward-looking) with the delivery of an on-brand experience to customers (the outside view).

In my experience, there are five keys to success in Employee Brand Engagement:

1. Make sure your CEO is on board, and ensure cross-functional commitment  If senior management considers employee engagement something that belongs to HR or Internal Communications, the program will have limited success at best. Employees look to leadership to reinforce messages and behaviors that are introduced in the engagement initiative. And engagement doesn’t happen overnight, so leadership must show commitment strategically and financially. These programs require a close working relationship among HR, Organizational Design, Training, Marketing, Internal Communications. Unless your company has a designated Employee Engagement unit, no one group can “own” the program.

2. Use employee AND customer data to create program metrics Traditional engagement focuses on recruiting and retention. Traditional marketing focuses on sales and customer satisfaction. But there are some exciting new ways to link improvements in employee attitudes and behavior with improved business results. The Sears service-profit model has been around for a long time, but it’s only now that statistical models can bring it to life. And while you’re doing that, uncover other useful metrics. Like an internal communications audit that measures the value  and impact of different types of communications. And a deeper dive into employee attitudes by region, line of business, job band, etc. It’s a noisy world out there in employee-land.

3. Fewer rules, more brand ownership I’m talking to you, marketers! Brand strategy and brand management is often closely held. Just as today’s customers feel a sense of ownership of your brand, so do employees. Employee’s front line experiences are valid and revealing.  Rigid rules, impenetrable “dashboards”, complex messaging matrices are often built in an ivory tower. Let employees challenge your assumptions. Let them tell you about the real world. That is, however, only after you have let them see and hear what real customers and prospects actually say about your company and products. It’s eye-opening on all sides.

4. Market to employees like customers Just as strong advertising programs are cross-platform, a successful brand engagement program must consider each employee touchpoint. Don’t rely on posters and employee publications to do the work. Think viral. Think interactive content. Think hands-on experience. But I have to offer one major caution: often, employees react poorly to “expensive” looking material, particularly in an environment when resources are tight. Be sensitive to your corporate culture.

5. Give your program time We live in a world of instant gratification, but behavioral change doesn’t happen overnight. All too often, my clients dive into a program without realizing that they are committing to a multi-year effort. You don’t just set up a network of brand advocates, and dust off your hands. If you have a network, they will require regular care and feeding. Brand training is the beginning, not the end. If you set up your metrics appropriately, you will have specific check-points along the way.

There is much more to say on this subject, but not today.

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