Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Relevance of Motown

Not the record company. The Motor City. That's the question Detroit and the Big Three General Motors, Ford and Chrysler need to ask. What's the relevance of Motown? Obviously, their ridgid adherence to styling queues didn't do enough to set Oldsmobile apart. Oldsmobile's now extinct. So why'd they stick to portholes at Buick? Same reason. Dogma. Which is why portholes are still potholes at Buick. And when you see those portholes glued to the front quarter panels of some old import car you know they've given your brand equity the kiss of death. So what is the relevancy of brands such as Buick? Hopefully, the news of the auto maker's brands demise is premature. But the answer isn't in price. Once you trade on price your brand equity sinks so low you have to climb up a ladder to get to the bottom. And the US auto industry habitually throws promotions all the time - further decreasing their value. Now we can't get the credit even if we wanted to make a purchase. Quality, dependability, design and styling, J.D. Power Customer Satisfaction Surveys, Road & Track, Car & Driver and other media recognition, annual auto shows, all hype. And the only junkie who's hooked is our own US auto industry who continue to believe they can make what they want and use advertising to continue to convince us it's what we need.

Detroit's real salvation is in the identification of a Product Potential so relevant and meaningful to consumers that we'd mortgage our homes to buy their products. It's merely not sufficient to trot the "buy American" motto back out of mothballs. We've been there and done that. But as Procter & Gamble learned through Folgers it is possible to kick the habit. As all food and beverage manufacturers believe, we buy their products for taste, or flavor and aroma. Sometimes convenience. But that bar's too low. Of course you taste good. Otherwise I'll become a trier/rejector. But what is more relevant to heavy ground roast coffee consumers is "control." The best part of waking up is that stimulant in their cup. It helps them think earlier. They take flavor for granted.

And that's what Detroit needs to do. Realize that everything it says and does is taken for granted. Now give us a selling dimension that's more relevant to the US car buyer. It's all a matter of seeking out and finding that answer through the process of Perceptual Innovation. How you change the way we all think. Another "halo" new product just won't cut the mustard. We take 'em for granted.

And if they can't do it maybe they should hire Motown Record's founder Barry Gordy. At least he can identify a hit. He didn't make black music. As he said the other night, he makes music for everyone.

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