Letter to GM – why I do things the way that I do, and why Saab should hire someone like me to do it full time

Saab USA have an ad budget of around 55 million a year. I don’t know how much Saab Netherlands are spending on Margreet, but I’d wager the campaign would be costing in the tens of thousands. Various jurisdictions are spending money on promoting the brand and getting it exposure, which is a good thing.

It cost me around eight thousand or so to run this website in the last 12 months and I reached tens of thousands of people in doing so. I believe that I’ve also helped Saab sell a few cars along the way. I haven’t signed anyone up to the dotted line of course, but there isn’t a marketing exec at Lowe Worldwide who has.

Some of you regulars reading this may be surprised that I’d still love to work for Saab, doing what I do now on this blog. Actually, I’d love to work for Saab doing almost anything, but this is what I could probably do best (though I am a qualified CPA, but numbers bore that daylights out of me).

Would the honesty of this blog be compromised if it were an official Saab blog? Maybe. But in emerging blogospheric world, I don’t think it’d be necessary.

I’d probably have to tone down the anti-Cadillac rhetoric a little, but I believe that a corporate blog can be honest, open, forthcoming and a little more revealing without having to constantly toe the company line.

I read this entry on ESPN’s Truehoop blog with interest this morning. It’s a very interesting piece on corporate blogging involving an NBA player, Gilbert Arenas, and a conflict caused after an honest entry on his blog criticised his shoe sponsor, Adidas.

….if you want to know what Gilbert Arenas thinks about different brands of basketball shoes, are you going to believe him when he reads a professionally prepared script in an Adidas commercial? Or are you going to believe him when he says casually, on his blog, that he thinks some of the Adidas prototype designs he saw were icky, and some Nikes and Starburys are pretty cool looking?

I mean, the blog version is just 100% truer right? That’s just how people are. There is not a human who really believes, in his soul, that every good shoe comes from one brand. Give me a break.

As Henry Abbott states at TrueHoop, good blogs are gaining traction because in this modern internet age, news that’s well sourced and well prepared doesn’t have to be fully polished. It’s still well organised and prepared, but it’s down to earth and it can arrive unshaven and wearing shorts if need be. Good content is good content. The surroundings are smoke and mirrors. Blogs are grassroots affairs and offer an unparalleled chance for a company to interact with their customers.

GM know this and that’s why they’ve started blogs of their own, but they don’t really interact in order to gain any appreciation of what people are saying. Instead, they’ve got RSS feeds of blogs like this one (Hi guys!) and others that actually do give an idea of the pulse in the market place.

So currently I’m doing some of Saab’s work for them and I’m doing it at no cost to them (other than the occasional travel and accommodation they’ve extended to me and representatives of this site for media events; expenses that they also incur for the mainstream media). TS is promoting the cars, marketing the cars, providing grassroots stories about the cars, promoting pride in ownership, appreciation of the company’s values and goals, and most of all – appreciation of driving a Saab, which is what it’s all about.

I do it because I love the brand and honestly believe that they make the best value cars in the world when it comes to a combination of performance, utility, comfort and safety. I do it because I love the storied past of the brand. I love learning about it and sharing it as it comes to light.

In the past, the acute interest in Saabs was largely due to the fact that they were so different. Saab can only sell that as an historical fact now. Their current range, whilst retaining points of difference, is much more mainstream.

Saab, like few other car companies in the world, is the receipient of a lot of love and loyalty. I worry that they’re in danger of losing that, though, and I wonder what they’re doing about preserving it. I think sharing as much as you can within reasonable commercial limitations is in the interests of creating an atmosphere of inclusiveness that can foster that brand loyalty.

Take, for example, my early release of images of the Saab Turbo X.

I received those images from a source. I didn’t receive them officially from Saab. I released the images a couple of days before the embargo date for several reasons. One, to satisfy the interests of the readership here at TS. Two, to satisfy the wider interest of those who love Saabs or are interested in Saabs, but don’t normally hang out here at TS. And finally, to get the Turbo X some publicity in advance of the many other special cars that were being released at the Frankfurt show.

For a few days at motoring sites on the web, the Turbo X was noticed. It was written about, commented on and pondered. It was appreciated. XWD was read about. Saab’s history in turbocharging was read about. And all this happened without reader’s minds having to compete with 100 other press releases out there from bigger companies.

Did all that benefit Saab? I’m sure that it frustrated Saab’s PR people a bit, because they’re the PR people and Saab news is supposed to come from them. Which it did, just a little earlier than they’d planned.

I think it benefitted Saab for the reasons mentioned above. TS had incoming links (yes, it benefits TS, too) from all sorts of forums and sites that deal with other brands and it was notable that many of them were brand-specific, performance-oriented sites. Would this have happened otherwise – maybe? but probably not to the same extent.

——

I love Saabs. I love buying them, looking at them, reading about them, hauling stuff in them and most of all, I love driving them.

I love Saabs enough to be honest about them and sing their praises from the rooftops when it’s deserved and kick them in the pants when circustances warrant it.

What I’d really like to do is share even more about Saabs with the world out there. Whilst I sit 8 hours a day crunching numbers, I could be researching, driving and videoing the Saab freewheel from the 60s and 70s. I could be embarking on a campaign I like to think of as “aducation” – making some fun, short videos and other documents that share some basic info about who Saab is as a company and why the cars are so great. Communicating with people on a wider scale on why Saabs are so much better than they think. Engaging with owners old and new about why they drive the car that they drive.

Saab may eventually come up with a plan to do this themselves, but my guess is that it’ll be all white-teeth and no bite because it’ll be driven by the corporate body and not the enthusiast body.

Flash and dazzle is good for about 30 seconds. After that, you’ve got to have some substance and Saab can best do that by engaging the people that support their business. Provide something that’ll give people the idea that the company is real. That is has a personality, a history, a presence and a rationale for doing things the way it does them (of course, your product has to back this up, too).

What would the average Saab enthusiast think about taking a look around the back of the Saab museum? A ride with Bjorn Envall in the EV-1? How about retracing Carlsson’s steps in the Liege-Sofia-Liege in a Saab 96, visiting with other enthusiasts along the way and riding in convoy? Or riding with Kenneth Backlund in a Turbo X around the Nordschleife? They’re just a few ideas. All that combined with all the regular news, opinion and skullduggery that goes on around here.

All it’d take is a decision from Saab as a global body to make it happen. I can just about guarantee that over the next few years it’d draw a huge amount of interest, and that’ll be important.

Why?

Saab are about to embark on a growth phase. With a refreshed 9-3 out now with new technology and four all-new models coming in the next 3-4 years, it could actually be a time of unprecedented growth for the company.

The time for creating an honest and engaging customer infrastructure isn’t in three or four years time. It’s now.

Would I want to do it? Absolutely. I’ve got the runs on the board already and know a reasonable amount about the brand. I’ve also got a feel for the type of content people like to see and what works on the web. And I can write a little, too.

Does it have to be me that does it? Of course not.

But whatever happens, I hope Saab does something about this as it’s an important area to get into. Even more important is to get into it the right way, and a corporate person isn’t necessarily going to do that.

You may also like

16 Comments

  1. I know others are afraid that being an official Saab blog would compromise your honesty, but I’m not. Even if it tones you down a bit, we’d still know how to read between the lines. Saab has always been active in emerging technologies, and I would be happy if they were active now in the “emerging blogospheric world”. And I can’t imagine Saab getting getting more bang for their buck than to hire you. I hope they are listening.
    PS: I love your ideas, especially the one about retracing Erik Carlsson’s steps. I’m looking forward to seeing them fulfilled. 🙂

  2. I agree with you on the principle of this narrative, but I believe that you may be a little naive (as we all likely are) about how much editorial control the suits at GM (or any other major consumer brand) would exert over any corporate blogger. They would give you free rein on something like the aforementioned Erik Carlsson piece, but you probably couldn’t breathe with all of the scrutiny your blogs about the current models would get.

    Be careful what you wish for.

  3. Think about it Swade, if they were smart they would hire you. But if GM was smart they would still being building hatches, not put Onstar on our cars that would be obsolete in a few years, made their own version to the Trollpod, and I am sure we could go on and on! 🙂

  4. By the way, I’m not nay saying that they shouldn’t hire you; I think they should. However, I think that you would find thorns as quickly as you would find roses.

    My two cents.

  5. If trollhattansaab became an official blog, then I think a new unoffical blog would emerge and many of your visitors would move there. After all, most of us are here to read about speculations, rumours and inside information 😀

  6. If GM were smart! The evidence is that it is not. I’ve been selling Saab for 8 years now and I can assure you that the more GM gets involved the more americanized this brand becomes. Do you think for a moment that GM would exploit the talent of Swedish engineers and designers? Think about this … GM’s brain introduced a Saabaru 9.2X and still attempts to push a 9.7X … as a Saab??? GM intends to eventually have three brands under the same roof … Hummer, Cadillac, and … Saab! If there isn’t something wrong with that, then “I” need a rude awakening. Saab’s potential competition are the names we are familiar with (in the USA)… BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Volvo. Do you think for a moment that one of those buyers will step into a “GM store” to consider Saab?? And no, GM buyers are not and will not consider Saab over a GM product. So, the bottom line is, regretably, the following … GM has no clue!

  7. An official Saab blog probably wouldn’t be much more than press releases and historic articles. I am sure you’ll have to end your contact with Djup and they certainly won’t let you publish spy shots or leak other information. Any job directly working for Saab will probably be a conflict of interests.

  8. If you had been as close to GM as I have in the past then no-way would you want to work for them. Your blog only works because it is independent. You would be amazed what stunts the suits at GM would pull!

  9. Okay swade, how about this. You get the Saab job and play by GM’s rules, Mr. Nice Guy. I’ll start an alternative Saab blog, and you can “leak” all the good stuff to me anonymously. 🙂

  10. “I believe that I’ve also helped Saab sell a few cars along the way. I haven’t signed anyone up to the dotted line of course, but there isn’t a marketing exec at Lowe Worldwide who has.”

    While I myself haven’t signed the dotted line (yet), I can assure you that the Saab 9-3 SportCombi is on my short-list of cars for one reason: trollhattansab.net. This site has helped to remind me why I first fell in love with Saab back in the 1970s, and why I have continued to have a place for them in my automotive heart (despite not ever owning one yet). Do I think that Saab should hire you to do this blog? Absolutely. Do I think that GM has the chutzpah to allow it? Not likely. But regardless of what happens, keep up the fantastic work, swade. You rock. I can’t wait to break the news to all of you when I do finally join the club…

  11. I agree completely with eggsngrits, and everyone else.

    It’s a nice dream. But it’s time to wake up and get some coffee before work, now.

  12. Swade best of luck getting good sonsors for your site and that people here spread your site to friends who in turn… so on.
    An independent site with the financial resources would be the best. The more diverse views the better. Since SAAB/GM people pick up information on this site. In the long run it might get all the way to Rick W, who I know likes the SAAB brand and what it stands for. We are the frontline end users! And not the least the buyers of new great models!

  13. Thanks everyone for your thoughts. I know there’s some skepticism about whether or not this could ever work, but sometime, some company is going to do this sort of down-to-earth connection. And they’re going to benefit from it, too.

    The internet has become a huge game-changer. If companies think they can control what people think of their products through 30 second ad spots and sponsorship of sports stadia, they’re kidding themselves. People talk, always have. And now they can connect easier than ever. The company’s got to have a meaningful connection as part of that dialog, otherwise they’re going to miss out.

    It’ll happen more and more. And the companies that bite the bullet and get involved will benefit.

  14. A “down-to-earth” company-sponsered blog would undercut said company’s entire PR department.

    I don’t think you should ever put yourself on Saab’s payroll. I love Saab, but they’re a company like any other, and I much prefer honest and passionate reporting like this to stilted company-approved paragraphs, which is what you’d more than likely be writing, no matter how “down-to-earth” the new blog purported to be.

    Saab knows it can’t have someone like you actually officially affiliated with the company because you’d be way too honest, but the reason it doesn’t try to harass people like you with various lawsuits is because they know it helps the business.

    Ideally, I think you should be treated like any other independent media outlet, but you should also probably get special treatment (eg your Carlssons and EV-1s and whatnot) just because you’re so beneficial to the brand and because you have a lot of influence.

    Frankly, I don’t see why they DON’T send you a long-term tester. Do they think YOU’RE going to give a brand-new Saab 9-5 or whatever a bad review? :p

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *