Revving Up Company Culture + Brand Voice

MTV Inspires G.M. to Evolve from the Inside Out

Lisa Clark Posted by

May 20 2012

Recently, I reviewed the article “Highway to Health” about Ford’s experimentation with addressing the very different needs of their older and younger customers. So, I was eager to read the New York Times article “As Young Lose Interest in Cars, G.M. Turns to MTV for Help” that discusses similar concerns at General Motors (G.M.) for Chevrolet. Here’s the essence of the article and what it means for content.

WHAT I LIKED

The article startled me with statistics like these:

  • In 2008, only 46.3 percent of potential drivers 19 years old and younger in the U.S. had drivers’ licenses, compared with 64.4 percent in 1998.
  • 46 percent of drivers in the U.S. aged 18 to 24 said they would choose Internet access over owning a car.
  • 3,000 consumers born from 1981 to 2000 were asked which of 31 brands they preferred. Not one car brand ranked in the top 10.

Cars don’t mean as much to youth anymore. No more dreams of the open road or a new car for your Sweet Sixteen. Freedom no longer means physical mobility. Freedom is virtual mobility. Instead of driving to reach people, young people are connecting with people and content online. They’re also living in larger cities and using trains, metros, and busses. Confronted with high gas prices and environmental concerns, cars seem like a necessary evil at best.

While this situation seems like a problem for G.M., it’s also an opportunity. It’s certainly an opportunity to create new kinds of car, such as Chevy’s small and fuel-efficient Sonic, Cruze, and Spark. It’s also a chance to kick start G.M.’s brand.  So, the auto manufacturer decided to approach MTV Scratch, a unit of Viacom, to tap into the same insights Scratch uses to reach and keep the attention of a younger generation. G.M. quickly realized their new brand voice had to start with a new company culture, a new attitude.

This new attitude will transform everything from the interior design at headquarters to the look and technology of its cars to their dealerships. They have also recruited their own “insurgents,” young Chevrolet employees who are focused on change and report on “skeptical executives.” G.M. is even rethinking the test drive because “young consumers find riding in a car with a stranger creepy.” (I’m no Millennial, but I have to agree.)

WHAT I WANTED

I admire G.M.’s attempts to embrace and understand their changing market. Not that I would expect the company to reveal the entire strategy, but I wanted to know more. G.M. is doing the hard part, actually walking the walk. They know voice is not simply a marketing agency exercise. But, how are they going to talk the talk? Will they develop new voices for individual youth brands? Is there a social strategy they are adopting? I know none of this happens overnight. The car brand Spark, for example, has a 5-year strategy in place, plus it takes 3 years to bring new car designs to the public. But, the article didn’t suggest how G.M.’s cultural changes will make the leap to their public brands and persona.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR CONTENT

G.M.’s approach of changing its culture to change its voice can inspire any organization. When you develop a personality and tone for your brand, you have to be genuine. These things can’t be faked. If you claim values that you really don’t live by, no one will believe you or take your voice seriously. You even risk disappointing people or making them angry because you don’t deliver what your brand promises. And, of course, if you use an inconsistent voice across your store, website, call centers, and other touchpoints with customers, you risk confusing people or simply being forgettable.

In making changes from within first, G.M. will understand and embody a new identity. I’m hopeful the auto maker will then more efficiently, consistently, memorably, and creatively communicate this identity to its changing customers. Rather than apply the brand voice, G.M. could let the voice flow from its culture. Isn’t that how it should be?