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Insider: Yes, Branding Killed GM!

I recently pointed out that the reason GM was dying was that GM focused on branding rather than product quality. Yesterday, I received a email from a GM Sales insider, confirming the view that GM had fundamental product problem right when it was trying like crazy to market itself against foreign competition. Since this could easily happen to you, your firm and your industry, it's worthwhile to see how bad things can get when companies drink the "strategic branding" kool-aid...

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I recently pointed out that the reason GM was dying was that GM focused on branding rather than product quality. Yesterday, I received a email from a GM Sales insider, confirming the view that GM had fundamental product problem right when it was trying like crazy to market itself against foreign competition. Since this could easily happen to you, your firm and your industry, it's worthwhile to see how bad things can get when companies drink the "strategic branding" kool-aid...

Here's the email in its entirety...

Great work on the GM Ad videos and commentary. I began my career as "Partsman" at the Dealership level in 1980. I personally witnessed the parade of crap that GM put out through 1998. I too saw market share evaporate as year after year as poor product was put forth:
  • 1980: X-Body (Citation etc.) total garbage with a pathetic transmission, and plastic tape window regulators, poor air conditioners, and on and on.. Complete crap. Also the 350 Diesel engine a converted Olds gasoline engine, that was born to just blow up... And they did, all of them. They had to create a Transmission that did not require vaccum to shift, (for the Diesel) So, the Turbo 200 shifted by governor pressure and calculated slipping.. Again, born to burn up.. Like an eight track tape.. Unreal..
  • 1982: Suburbans were introduced with a new Four Speed Overdrive Transmission. The 700R4.. It was tested on the public. They just locked up, exploded, quit, burned up, and we did not fix them, we sent them to GM to evaluate and the customer got another. Field testing product on your customer. Many paid for us to install the older Turbo 400 Trans. and forget overdrive. All this on New Surbubans... Insane...
  • 1985: The Worst... Cadillac goes Front wheel Drive and the New DeVilles are Total Crap. All Aluminum V8 with oil galleries too small and so the main bearings burn up in less than 50K miles. New Front drive transmission, leaks and just falls apart, same with the AC systems. Cadillac is forced to provide a 100K mile warranty on the drivetrain. Because none of them will ever make it that far..
  • 1987: Acura arrives and the Cadillac customer is all over them. (for good reason)
  • 1989: Lexus arrives with One model! And Cadillac loses even more.
GM handed the imports the business, I never saw anything like it. I could go on and on through the years, but you know the outcome. I'll discuss my plant visits another time. I guess I need to write a complete blog on this, because I was there.
So, there you have it, folks. GM's management had the time and energy to launch 12 (count 'em, 12) brands, but not enough time and energy to make quality products. They had money to spend on some of the most expensive ad campaigns of all time, but not enough money to make sure that their products actually worked.

There are thousands of companies making the same mistake, even today. Hardly a day goes past when I don't see some company that built a brand by having a great product decide to relocate its manufacturing overseas (usually China) under conditions that guarantee that product quality will suffer.

It's really sad, and I blame the entire concept of "strategic marketing" for confusing the C-level executives into believing that it's possible to market your way out of a product problem.