I hear that executive search firm Spencer Stuart is looking for recruits to repopulate GM's board of directors. Here is my application for their consideration:
Dear Selection Committee,
You need me.
Well, not necessarily me, personally, but certainly you need someone like me. More importantly, you need to avoid hiring the predictable, usual suspects to oversee GM's brands. If you staff this gig like every other executive placement project, you'll doom the company to
- Spending tons of money, and
- Not making any money for the effort
Remember, GM led the automakers in burning through at least $6 billion last year, which was a lot of money to spend in order to not sell cars. So I say the company's success depends on you finding a board-level marketer who possesses a new approach to branding.
GM helped invent, if not perfect, the traditional marketing approaches to branding...lots of slick image ads (winding roads, anyone?), fancy brochures and glossy dealer showrooms, and manufacturing that delivered vehicles with a half-life of only a few years. The entire shebang was based on mostly superficial design changes to meet whims and fads, creating a rough approximation of the fashion business. Vehicles were sold as statements of self-image, and thus built accordingly.
Every aspect of that business model has failed, or proven to be less successful over time. The folks who gave the world "planned obsolescence" are just not equipped to face a consumer public that wants "purposeful engagement."
Cars and trucks need to be fun to drive (and look great), but they also need to be sourced, manufactured, delivered, retailed, serviced, and supported in new, meaningful ways. Consumers will use all of these qualities to attach meaning to the brands, so you can't presume to do the attaching for them (or do it via schmarty-pants marketing). Unless the board knows the difference between this new reality and the standard-operating-procedures of the marketing that have failed it, GM will implode.
For instance, it means realizing that the impact of new media, like social networks, isn't just another channel through which to deliver pointlessly entertaining content, but rather a way of thinking (and conduct) that touches every aspect of the business. The best "marketing" ideas won't emerge exclusively from the creative imaginations of marketers, just as the compelling reasons why consumers love GM's products might not include their attachment to a make-believe brand image.
Consider that the company's successes may come from:
- Novel financing deals, like looking at a subscription model for consumer ownership in a product type, function, or purpose, and not outright purchase of specific chunks of metal
- Expanded services that go beyond GPS, and unite model or brand users in communities that deliver meaningful, rewarding benefits to one another
- A new approach to service, somehow taking the idea of preventative medicine and truly applying it to the care of automobiles
- Creative sourcing strategies that give owners more say, and involvement, in how parts are procured
- Bold ways to reimagine how vehicles are constructed, so perhaps there are more parts/components that can be "upgraded," and thus improve the owner experience over time (i.e. stop the inevitable slide of a depreciating asset)
The next board of directors should reinvent the way GM runs its business, and that means you can't import some nudnick who dotted all the right innovation points, and hired the right agencies to cross the "T" in technology for another brand. You should run away from any candidates who've won creative awards, been featured at industry events, or received the recognition of trade pub headlines.
So you see, Spencer Stuart, I'm uniquely qualified for a board position: I know what needs to be done, and I could help make sure the teams tasked with branding stay focused on delivering results, not just image. Oh, and I promise to attend all of the board meetings.
Have your people contact my people.