Sunday, February 8, 2009

Bathwater dirty? Throw out the baby.

With GM in need of some serious restructuring, they’ve been looking at narrowing the makes and models they offer. Oldsmobile is gone, Pontiac is getting pared down and GM is looking for buyers for Hummer and Saab.

Recently, GM planned put Saturn on the chopping block, while looking to keep Buick. I had to ask myself why GM would kill the younger, hipper brand for the stodgy old standby full of outdated sedans and undifferentiated SUVs. It turns out the reason is many-fold.

Abandoning the Brand Premise
For starters, the Saturn brand was built on community. In its early days, Saturn owners were like part of a special club, with events arranged, forums created and stories of their love for their Saturns exchanged. However, it seems GM was only interested in that push as far as it could launch the brand, and pulled the plug on the whole “community push” once the brand was relatively established. Guess what? When you build an entire brand on a premise and then abandon that premise altogether, your brand it going to feel it.

Chucking the Marketing Support
Second, Mark LeNeve, VP of Marketing, Sales & Service for GM North America admits in AdWeek that GM has cut the marketing budget for Saturn and hasn’t given it sufficient marketing dollars to successfully launch new models. Saturn has largely gone dark in several key media in a mature category where advertising is a big influence on brand preference. If you don’t put enough marketing behind a product in a crowded category like cars, it’s going to falter.

Selling Galoshes in the Desert
And third has been so far a systemic problem at GM of trying to survive under the old model where you try to sell people what you want to sell and not what they want to buy. Did they let Saturn stick to its original base of unique, small, economical cars? Nope. When gas hit $4/gallon, the GM folks were having Saturn scrap its best-selling small car in favor of introducing multiple SUVs based on Chevrolet platforms. Anybody see a problem with trying to sell what people can’t give away and discontinuing what people are trying to get faster than they can be made?

In short, I think Saturn is a brand that should stay around if it is managed with some semblance of competence. Let it get back to its core. At the very least, Saturn’s body styles are at least more up-to-date than Buick’s attempt at updating the classic 1920s Hudson.

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