Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cadillac & General Motors: The limitations of needs based selling

Charles H. Green's Trust Matters blog is always a good read. And the relevance of his post on the limitations of needs based selling remains fresh two years later when you read it and contrast his views against the efforts of companies in financial crisis attempting to affect turnarounds. My case in point? General Motors.

A company's advertising is its mouthpiece. And no where else will one find greater expression of needs based selling than in a company's advertising. And nowhere else can one find greater evidence that absolutely nothing has changed within a company than in the way they express "our" needs - for this is how they "see" us.

Look at General Motor's advertising for Cadillac's SRX Crossover. It says this "is the Cadillac or crossover vehicles." IS THAT my need? I thought MY NEED, if I currently had one, was to see signs of life from General Motors! Proof that someone was listening! Not "proof" from Ed Whitacre that when he came to GM he "liked what he found." Ed's just not my "needs" barometer.

So once again GM offers evidence that even though someone is home no one is "listening!" Like the scene in The Hunt For Red October where the Soviet Navy is banging away with their sonar so hard they couldn't hear a submarine if it was right under them; GM isn't listening to my needs. As Charles Green says, GM is trying to drive me (like cattle) to my needs.

GM and Cadillac are still my grandfather's brands. Telling me I need "the Cadillac" of crossovers just doesn't cut it. I look at the vehicle and see a design that "looks 10 years old before it was even new." The SRX is not "a product that says smart things about me." And in all of the advanced strategy research I did for GM that GM ignored and continues to ignore, these two needs still rate higher in GM's turnaround efforts than do money back guarantees. Who wants a money back guarantee if I'm not going to consider buying the car anyway!?

Cadillac is not my gold standard. There are just soooo many other luxury crossover and SUV brands that anyone over and under the age of 54 would rather have. So how does Cadillac address this? General Motor's Cadillac Division must Socially Engineer® a reason-for-being - the posuitioning strategy - that proves the brand is once again relevant to me. Social Engineering® is a process that matches consumers via "Culturally Influential Consumer Groups®" to products based on over 500 dimensions of product compatibility GM does not possess. Social Enginnering® is not accomplished using judgement for here we see General Motor's and it's partner's cognitive bias at work: advertising based on errors in judgement brought on by the false positives of old thinking.

Being "The Cadillac of Crossovers" is a claim without substantiation. Like "branding," it's something the lawyers say you can say when you don't have anything to say. As legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden says, "It's what you learn after you know it all that counts." So I'd welcome a fresh round of calls from executives at Cadillac and General Motors. Just don't ask me to wait 120 days to be paid like last time. Your needs are not being met by your existing roster of vendors and strategic suppliers. They have not helped you worship at the alter of effective needs based selling.

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