Pick Me, Bob!

"The people are revolting!!"

If you taken in everything the media is saying about GM’s state then we are currently on the eve of the apocalypse.  "Not so" says Bob Lutz in his latest instalment of the Fastlane weblog.  Bob’s case is that the traditional media (and let’s face it, a lot of internet publications are now part of that) are focusing on GM’s financial plight day after day and ignoring things like the awards recently won by the Corvette and Solstice.  At this point I might add in the awards won by the 9-5 Biopower late last year and it’s participation in the BEST project in Europe – but then again GM itself doesn’t push that particular barrow hard enough.

Bob provides a commitment to better getting GM’s message out there in all forms to the grassroots level and cites Fastlane itself as an example of how they’re doing that.  Then he opens the door when he asks:

What do you think?

I’m a faithful man Bob, so the phrase "Ask and you shall receive" is not an unfamiliar one.

Of course, my main concern is with Saab and despite the recent success of the BFJ campaign, there’s no other brand in the North American GM portfolio with less brand awareness than Saab.  There’s also no other brand with more potential for growth.

I’ll put the cars themselves to the side for one moment as Bob’s talking about communications here.  It’s a given that the range of cars available has to be exemplary in safety, design and performance (and in that order as far as Saab’s concerned IMHO).

Fastlane is a great initiative and GM should be applauded for it.  Like all blogs, it provides a medium for direct interaction and feedback between the writer (GM) and the reader (consumers).  Wanna know what the people think?  Write your concerns on the blog and see what they say.  This is more to do with communcation and consultation than corporate leadership, but it’s a rich vein of information nonetheless.

As commendable as Fastlane is, the question remains as to whether or not it’s effective enough as a grassroots strategy.  The most recent US election showed just how effectiveblogs can be as a communications tool, but are GM leveraging them enough to maximise the benefits?

I don’t think so.

For starters, one generic GM blog to cover all eight gazillion brands and themes to do with GM’s operations is not going to cut the mustard.  It’s great for getting the occasional bit of feedback and for spreading the GM message on the occaisional theme, but is it building up any brand enthusiasm or loyalty?

This site is far from being perfect, but I believe it to be an example of what can be done to galvanise an enthusiast group and provide timely news and opinion and importantly, get the same from those that stop by.  Sites like SaabCentral, The Saab Link, and yes, even Saabnet are performing the same service to a loyal group of returning, enthusiastic Saab owners.  I’m not wanting to cut off my own blog-hobby here, but wouldn’t all these people welcome a chance to interact directly with Saab?

I’ve offered my services to Bob and Jay Spenchian on previous occasions already and I’ll do it again.  Gents – I’m at your service.  My regular 9 to 5 is about as boring as jobs get.  Want to harness the full enthusiasm of the Saab community?  Make me your Saab blogger. 

I’ll take your brief and translate it into a site (actually, I’ve got a much bigger vision for a series of sites) that can captivate your community and give them the good oil.  I’ll still annoy the daylights out of you by leaking information and photos because that’s what your consumers want, but I guarantee that when people log in, they’ll stay and they’ll get information that interests them and maintains their interest in Saab as a brand. 

They’ll do it because they’ll be valued.  My enjoyment of this blog has grown because I value the opinions of the people that visit here.  They’re input is about as important as the source information I use for writing what I do here.  Do you treat them that way as consumers of your products?  Can you use the enthusiasm and loyalty of the typical Saab enthusiast in the United States?  With market share the size of a bee’s willy I’d say the answer is "yes".

Get that enthusiasm going, and get the same thing going for all the appropriate brands within GM and all of a sudden you have your own media machine.  That’s what blogging is all about Bob.  Enabling the people to report to the people, bypassing Big Media. 

You’re already researching all these types of sites in ‘secret’.  Don’t fear it, embrace it.

My second bit of advice is to respect the feedback that you’re given.  You don’t have to take the advice people give you.  Part of being a leader is forming an appropriate vision and following it.  But there’s still room to respect and at least acknowledge the feedback that you receive from your consumers.  Late last year there were around 80 or so people that took the time to provide you with over 100 pages of typed feedback.  They did it via this blog in a campaign called "Tell GM About It". I printed, bound and mailed the comments to you and Jay Spenchian myself.

If you want to seriously clean up your grassroots communications, an acknowledgement of the efforts of those people would be a good place to start.

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  1. Sorry about the overlook Etienne! There’s probably a bunch more I could have put on there, but I was trying to focus on forums at that point rather than blogs.

    If you’re reading this from Europe, then Etienne’s site (en Francais/Anglais) is definitely a place to get informed.


  2. Hah Swade have you popped open your weekend beers already now.

    GM holds its own media output by media-site and feedback channel is very wide but not that visible.

    And main point is that Autoworld has quite long delivery times, if you make a wish now, you have to wait 3-4 years to it become true. So GM aint rock band or restaurant, official enthusiasm sites are that for harder to build.

  3. TuuSaR, if you’re implying that I was drunk whilst writing this, sorry mate, but I’m a non-drinker.

    I think you may have missed the point of the post. It’s about building brand culture and enthusiasm. Yes, the automotive cycle is a long one, so how you interact with your customers can be a big issue in the meantime. Aftersales service is a big part of that, but leveraging sites like this one and forums like those mentioned is unexplored territory for a lot of companies. That’s the point of the post.

  4. Hi Swade,

    I think you are on right track with this one. Communication with present/future customers
    is one of the most important things that any company that is selling something needs to address.
    With sites like this one and those forum sites (if it would be an official saab site) customers would get much closer to the company
    and more attached to the brand in question and I realy feel that GM is not exploating that possibility and they should.
    Especially with a brand like SAAB becouse it is a brand that is all about passion and anyone who knows anything about marketing knows that passion sells.

  5. SWade et al: Two or three years ago a longtime SAAB mechanic and marketer complained to me rather angrily that “GM’s trying to sell SAABs through PR (public relations)” and it wasn’t working. I’m a former US print and broadcast journalist who tired of the lowering quality of my profession. I see the blogs as pointing the way forward. But the answer isn’t here yet, and it certainly is not in corporate blogs full of PR. GM is losing the PR war now on several fronts, from product attractiveness to public awareness of its financial woes. So good solider Lutz is doing the only thing GM knows how to do these days: PR. If you became a blogger representative for GM you would lose all credibility with thinking persons and destroy the good reputation you’ve built. I NEVER read that blog or any corportate blog; the non-reaction to “Tell It To GM” confirms what I already knew: it’s PR “spin” garbage. And don’t kid yourself, they’d never allow you to continue leaks and photos. Your blog is perhaps the best non-political one I’ve seen. Take it from someone who’s stood toe-to-toe with corporations, politicians, and the military — you don’t want to get in bed with these types. In fact, you need to be more discerning with their PR messages. This month they reported and you echoed SAAB January sales were up 34 percent over the prior year. Typical PR, because with SAAB’s low volume and an exceedingly poor January 2005 it required only 558 additional sales — 2,196 vs. 1,638 — to create a percentage spike that’s largely meaningless. GM naturally fails to mention US car sales overall were helped in January by unusually mild winter weather. In reality, SAAB US sales remain weak despite the strongest pricing incentives in the market, with no indication whatsoever of any notable upturn. (I predict a drop or, at best, stagnation in 2006 SAAB sales.) Consider the words of your fellow Australian and journalist John Pilger, and replace “journalist” in his first sentence with “bloggers”: “It is not enough for journalists to see themselves as mere messengers without understanding the hidden agendas of the message and myths that surround it.” No where will you find more hidden agendas and myths than in corporate, government, and military PR and, now, blogs. You’re new to this game, so I can’t expect you to fully appreciate that, yet. But you will.

  6. Thanks Bill. I know it’d be selling out to a degree, but the vision for what I’d do for Saab should the opportunity ever arise is different to this site. One can live with some sort of silly hope if one chooses and I certainly wouldn’t mind working for a company that I’m very enthused about. My current boss is a great guy, but the employer itself is quite uninspiring. this would be a challenge I’d enjoy being part of. In the meantime, I’ll just keep blogging away and enjoying my ‘spare’ time.

  7. The more dzlsabe sniffs, the more something is not right with this E85 bandwagon be it Trollhattan, Deetroit, or Decatur. According to the SaabSweden website the 2L Biopower gets exactly the same mileage and CO2 output as the petrol motor…not even .1+
    /-. Thats amazing. At the Chicago auto show the other day GM was dizzy promoting E85(check GM.com) but Saabs Biopower car(no fanfare here)..very suthspicious…it had a G motor(#8 VIN digit) same as an Aero…huh? Can somebody in Sweden confirm what a true E85motor reads?
    Then check admworld and explain the disparity between NA and EU-fuels…never fear Swade, they don’t respond well either. I try to be well-mannered but all these execs really need their bottoms kicked repeatedly.

  8. “Biopower gets exactly the same mileage and CO2 output”

    When E85 is NOT used and that was the case month ago there, no official MPG&liter/100 anywhere.

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