Joel Ewanick of GM says sell the brand, not special deals

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A vintage black-and-white 1920s English newspaper auto ad for the Lanchester Forty car.

Classic automotive advertising introduced consumers to a lifestyle filled with quality, dependability and elegance. (Photo Credit: CC BY-SA/Pamla J. Eisenberg/Flickr)

The road to recovery for automakers will not be easy. That’s what General Motors Vice President of Marketing Joel Ewanick recently told Automotive News in an interview. GM has waded through bankruptcy and tremendous turnover, which might seem to make any deals designed simply to move product fast attractive. However, Ewanick insists that GM must focus on brand strength and win back customers with quality rather than with discounts.

Brand strength muscles are there to be flexed

Focus on design and quality is slowly beginning to re-emerge out of the dust of the auto bailout, says Ewanick. For instance, brands such as Cadillac have had a unique sense of style for years, and customers appreciate this. Automakers must embrace the discipline necessary to rebuild faceless automotive brands that were buried under the fire sale mentality. Brands need room and dedication from corporate in order to grow on the public, as “people buy brands, not products,” said Ewanick. Chevrolet previously used Americana in its advertising, and while that company may not continue in the same vein, Ewanick believes that Chevy gets it – a brand has to have soul that goes far beyond the numbers.

Not the death of factory incentives

Factory and dealer incentives are far from dead, Ewanick says. Such deals should simply play a subordinate role to the brand story. Style, quality, efficiency, dependability and all the other hallmarks of a well-marketed automotive brand should drive sales, while discounts will still be there as a garnish. Focusing on brand strength will require that automakers rekindle a dialogue with consumers. In the past, automotive marketing dealt from a position of strength, using stories to create a bond with consumers. Many of the same elements of classic brands like Chevrolet’s Corvette SS and Stingray are waiting to be introduced to younger generations of car buyers. Past mystique shouldn’t be buried, as it isn’t dead.

Work to understand customers, rather than pitching cheap discounts

Everyone enjoys a good sale, but constantly rolling out the shiny banner doesn’t build strong relationships with customers. The auto bailout – where those teetering companies that were “too big to fail” fed upon taxpayer dollars for sustenance – damaged the reputations of automakers nationwide. Fleeting customers will buy when the price is too low to ignore, but this method fails to capture the lifetime buyers upon which America’s automotive industry used to depend. Knowing what consumers want in a car should be the focus of each and every automaker, not just a select few.

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  1. Jasper on

    A great rundown, Steve. I feel that social media is also going to be a huge player in helping GM re-establishing a brand presence for their vehicles. A direct automotive marketing firm recently highlighted some aspects of the impact social media has already had on the industry.