Chevrolet launched its new brand platform ‘Find New Roads’ in 2013 to align its engineering, design and retail operations behind a single vision. In an interview with BrandWagon’s Ankita Rai, Tim Mahoney, chief marketing officer, global Chevrolet and global General Motors marketing operations leader, says the new brand positioning has helped the company strike the balance between local relevance and global consistency. Excerpts:
GM rebooted Chevrolet’s marketing with the launch of ‘Find New Roads’ in 2013 as a brand positioning statement, replacing ‘Chevy Runs Deep’. What is the campaign all about? Why the need to change Chevy’s brand image?
When the new brand campaign ‘Find New Roads’ was launched, it was the first time that the Chevrolet brand, which has been in existence for over 100 years, had an overarching global theme. The idea was to globalise Chevrolet as a brand. It was designed to provide not only a tagline but also a direction to the brand — right from product development to marketing communication and branding.
We are a very large organisation with a presence in 115 countries. The new campaign is aimed at aligning Chevrolet’s engineering, design and retail operations behind a single vision. So the campaign ‘Find New Roads’ is about imagining what is possible with a brand like Chevrolet. The campaign works as a guiding light, a North Star. The new positioning is working for us. The look and feel of the communication is now starting to be truly global. The brand is much stronger now than it was three years ago. Back then, we were not even among the top 100 brands but we are now in the top 80.
Auto recall has been a big issue globally for GM. How do you handle this as a marketer?
I had joined the company in 2013 and seven months later we were in the midst of a recall. I give credit to our leadership and to our CEO for addressing it head on. This allowed us marketers to continue to tell stories to rebuild trust.
The brand came through all this in a healthy way and recovered strongly. In 2015, consumers’ favourable opinions about Chevrolet had gone up by 7%. This is a big swing. They thought it was new and fresh. Our dealers also stepped up to that. It was a tremendous win. Maybe the old GM would not have dealt with it the same way. I credit our leadership for accepting the challenge and committing not to do it again. You have to admit your mistake, be smart and learn from it.
GM is fast becoming a technology company. It launched its new ride-sharing platform and production version of the Chevy Bolt at the CES this year. Is traditional auto marketing going through change?
The product version of Bolt that we unveiled at the CES is proof that we are thinking on technology, design and performance in a totally different way. CES is a non-traditional place to unveil this, which is proof to that effect.
As marketers, you want to move at the pace of consumers. Consumers are becoming tech-savvy in how they think about transportation. Remember, the first mobile device was a car. ‘Find New Roads’ is about bringing new technologies, autonomous cars, electric cars, Internet of Things etc. The company is positioning itself very differently to remain relevant.
With India dominated by Japanese and Korean automakers, Western firms like GM have found it tough to ramp up domestic sales. Coupled with that, India’s automobile market has been sluggish for the past few years. How do you look at the Indian market under the global GM umbrella? Why has GM been struggling in India?
India is among the top 10 markets for us within the 115 markets we are present in. While we are focussing on some level of global consistency, the team here in India works on what is relevant for Indian consumers. As part of the product defensive, we are going to launch 10 cars in five years. The first one was launched last year — the Trailblazer. Smart innovative marketing and a partnership with Amazon have worked for us. We are focussed on building the brand back step by step and making it strong. To start with, we are focussing on customer experience. We have launched a programme — Chevrolet Complete Care. It is a promise to our customers on how they should expect to be treated at Chevrolet dealerships. I have been with the brand for three years now. Yes, there have been some challenges in the past. But one has to build trust in the brand.
You have an extensive background in global automotive marketing. On more than one occasion you have called yourself a dinosaur in auto advertising and marketing. How has the role of a CMO in the auto industry evolved?
Technology has been a big change. I learnt this expression about marketing in my graduate school which still holds true: “The purest form of marketing is understanding the customer so well that the products sell themselves.” Having true insights about your customer through data is incredibly important. The number of ways in which you can communicate with customers has exploded. You have to really become a value creator for the brand — find ways to protect the brand in terms of nurturing it and driving demand. One thing that has remained constant is the importance of a good story. Thanks to digital and social media, there are numerous ways in which you can tell stories.
The tenure of this job is like an infant, it is measured in months. My biggest challenge as a CMO has been steering a global brand which is present in 115 countries and is being sold about every seven seconds. In a global brand there has to be a balance between local relevance and global consistency. We have struck that with ‘Find New Roads’.