GM Has The Right Idea, But Can They Execute?

General Motors wants to be the next Apple, according to Ad Age.

Speaking to an audience of investors and analysts this week, GM’s Global Chief Marketing Officer, Joel Ewanick, had this to say:

“We understand our direct competitors are Toyota, Volkswagen, Hyundai — a very, a very strong competitor, one that I know well and is going to be very formidable — and Ford, obviously,” said Mr. Ewanick, who was the former CMO at Hyundai before accepting the GM job in the spring of 2010. “But it’s time to clearly differentiate our brand and align closer to a true global brand like an Apple. It’s time for an automotive company to step out and address consumers and their needs in a way that’s never been done before.”

How will GM achieve Apple-like status?

Ewanick says Chevrolet and Cadillac will set the tone for GM’s portfolio. “We have a plan and we’re working that plan.”

I have to believe GM’s plan begins with design, or redesign, as the case may be. Apple is Apple because their products are more pleasing. Because their products are more pleasing, they are also twice as expensive, which is clearly what GM is aiming for.

Ewanick said, “GM CEO Dan Akerson doesn’t want us to chase market share, he wants us to chase profitability. To do so we want to build the strongest consumer brand, not necessarily the strongest auto brand. …We have to find ways to differentiate ourselves so we’re not competing on the commodities (such as safety or fuel economy), but find other ways to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace.”

It’s hard to compare GM and Apple (because they’re not apple to apple). GM was founded in 1908, so its legacy–from which brand meaning comes–is more complex than Apple’s. Apple was founded in 1976 and has largely been run by one visionary designer ever since. It is entirely possible that when Apple turns 100, it too will sorely be in need of reinvention.

I think GM has an opportunity to achieve its goals with Cadillac. Cadillac is already a luxury brand, so to be more Apple-like, it just needs to deliver driving experiences beyond anything it, or anyone, has ever delivered before. Of course, that’s a tall order. What I’m saying is Caddy is the right brand to attempt the almost impossible.

Chevy, Buick and GMC, on the other hand, are not destined to become Apple-like. But that does not mean GM can’t bring design and heightened driver experiences to the forefront. If Chevy, Buick and GMC are without question the best-designed cars in their class, that would be a huge win for all.

To be Apple-like is on another level. When that’s the task, the missionary zeal of invention and attention to every detail must be glaringly obvious.

[UPDATE] GM’s desire to more like Apple is also the lead topic on this week’s BeanCast, the marketing podcast from Bob Knorpp. I was honored to be invited once again to speak up on this and several other items of interest. Please download the show to hear from Bob, me, Tyler Hurst, Kelly Eidson and Wendi Cooper.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.