Sep 28, 2018

General Motors: A Resurgent American Brand

“We have the ambition, the talent and the technology to create a world with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion. This vision unites us each and every day, and this transformation begins with the world’s greatest employees.” Mary T. Barra, General Motors CEO

General Motors (GM), one of America’s most beloved, enduring and ever-evolving motoring brands most certainly has a vision for the future – but the road to success has not been entirely smooth.

A great American brand that boasts some of the most creative marketing minds in the industry, GM is currently thriving in a competitive and incredibly saturated marketplace.

One of the primary drivers of GM’s success is down to its savvy, forward-thinking, targeted, cohesive and creative digital marketing efforts, which we will explore during the course of this case study.

But before we talk digital marketing, let’s look into the background and story behind the great American motoring brand.

General Motors: The Background

Founded in 1908 by horse-drawn vehicle expert William “Billy” Durant, GM initially owned only the Buick Motor Company, but over the years that followed, acquired in excess of 20 additional companies including Oldsmobile, Cadillac, Oakland (now known as Pontiac), Opel, Chevrolet and Vauxhall.

During the course of World War II, GM supplied the allies with over $12 billion (€10 billion) of materials including airplanes, lorries and tanks. By 1942, all of GM’s production efforts were in support of the war effort.

Their 1949 Buick Roadmaster, the Chevrolet Corvette and Bel Air, and the 1959 Cadillac Eldorado helped set a precedent for automotive styling during the 1950s, a time that is still considered today as the Golden Age of car design.

During the 1970s, GM showcased its pioneering spirit once again with the development of the world’s first low-lead or unleaded petrol car, in addition to the first ever passenger airbag. They also developed the catalytic converter to help significantly reduce emissions.

Moreover, the trailblazing brand helped to develop the guidance and navigation system for man’s inaugural moon landing aboard Apollo 11, and designed and manufactured the Lunar Roving Vehicle for Apollo 15 – the first vehicle to drive on the moon.

Over the following decades, GM continued to grow, thrive and add more motoring brands to its collection, continuing its mission to lead, shape and improve the motoring industry one development at a time.

However, despite its pioneering mindset and colossal successful over many decades, the auto manufacturer hit a massive low point in 2009 when the company filed for bankruptcy.

This screenshot from the General Motors website shows their selection of car brands. Credit:
This screenshot from the General Motors website shows their selection of car brands. Credit:

The Fall and Rise of an Empire

Even the biggest, most industry-leading brands can suffer a great fall – and GM is no exception. However, if you have the ability to realign your values, transform your internal culture and embrace emerging digital technologies, a renaissance is possible – and again, GM is no exception.

As a result of a dwindling consumer base, years of losses and a steep market drop, GM was forced to declare bankruptcy in 2009, facing devastating employee cuts and losses. The company was bailed out by the US government, keeping the great American motoring giant in business with Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC and Buick remaining in the domestic market – as a result of this, the company began to rebuild its internal strategy and repair its reputation.

One of the first initiatives came in the form of appointing the talented Mary T. Barra as the first female CEO of a major global automaker – an individual that has since propelled GM into new and exciting heights.

But, before its full commercial renaissance, GM suffered a PR nightmare with a scandal that resulted in 124 deaths due to a faulty ignition switch. Not only was this mistake tragic and deadly, the brand’s reputation was devastated, putting a great strain on the company’s future once again.

Things looked particularly bleak at that point, but with the leadership of Barra, the brand almost miraculously rebuilt its image from the ground up. With a significant shift in company culture, fresh digital marketing strategies and investments in the right branches of motoring technology, management have completely turned GM’s image around, with values that lie in safety, community, innovation, autonomy and zero emissions.

In Q4 of 2017, GM’s stock value far surpassed the expectations of Wall Street, placing the brand at the forefront of American motoring once again, and its digital marketing efforts were a big driver of this success.

The General Motors Twitter account outlines the company culture and is visually impressive. Credit:
The General Motors Twitter account outlines the company culture and is visually impressive. Credit:

GM’s Digital Marketing Approach

“We are the team minding the best interests of the customer.” Whitney Drake, GM Manager of Social Strategy and Care

To save themselves from extinction, GM went about redefining its image, its values, its mission, and as a result its approach to digital marketing. Here we will explore their digital marketing strategies and channels.

Social Media

Based on the understanding that customer service is a huge brand differentiator in today’s consumer-led digital world, as well as the prevalence of social media in the digital age, GM has placed a great deal of focus on its strategy and responsiveness across all of its primary social media platforms.

To achieve a flawless level of customer-facing engagement through its social media channels, the company trained a robust team of social customer care experts while fostering a culture of cross-departmental communication to help deal with inquiries, bespoke requests and escalated issues swiftly and with a level of personalization that is unrivalled among most other companies within the industry. This approach has been pivotal in the ongoing efforts to improve GM’s brand reputation.

Moreover, by focusing on its social media-based customer service efforts and investing in deep social listening, the brand has been able to drive a greater level of engagement across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in particular by crafting its tone of voice to its target audience while sharing content that is inspirational, exciting and offers genuine personal value.

GM’s primary Facebook page alone now boasts 779,000 followers (plus, one of its most successful umbrella brands, Chevrolet, has more than 17 million followers) with a healthy average post engagement rate – a good performance considering the company suffered a PR nightmare just three years ago.


Visual Marketing

An estimated 84% of communications will be visual by the end of 2018. That said, it’s no surprise that GM has invested ample time, effort and investment in its video marketing strategy.

In addition to its highly-subscribed YouTube channel that features an inspirational mix of uplifting, visually stunning bite-sized clips showcasing the brand’s commitment to a brighter, safer, more prosperous future and videos offering its audience an insight into the people that drive GM’s success, it’s perhaps its live video efforts that have earned the brand the most attention in recent times.

In January 2017, GM became the world’s first major automotive brand to use Facebook Live. The broadcast, launched to introduce the audience to GM’s new electric vehicle at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), this visual marketing initiative earned the brand 24,500 views and was coupled with a 360-degree video that allowed viewers to look around the interior.

Now, while these viewing figures are significantly smaller than that of a traditional primetime television ad, this targeted, data-driven and relevant approach to video marketing makes up just one cog of GM’s cutting-edge digital marketing machine. Not only this, but it meets its consumers where they’re most engaged, offering a far better return on investment (ROI) as a result.


Content Marketing

As a revered American brand that has long been celebrated for leading the way in the automotive industry, GM is using its editorial and blog content to inspire trust, loyalty and excitement in its prospects while communicating its core values in a way that is not only digestible but entirely diverse and eclectic.

GM has an unmistakable brand style and tone of voice, setting it apart from its rivals. Much like its YouTube channel, it’s blog, aptly named ‘Our Stories’, focuses on producing large, consistent and high-quality article-based content that is categorized into the following areas: Commitment, Culture, Technology and Social Responsibility.

By naming its blog-based content ‘Our Stories’, GM has placed value on telling the tale, not only of its technology, products and its innovations, but of the people that make GM a success – its employees and customers – humanizing the brand and encouraging meaningful connections with its audience as a result.

“Those of us working in the company today, we stand on the shoulders of giants.” Tim Herrick, Executive Chief Engineer, Chevy Full-Size Trucks

This quote, extracted from GM’s Culture article ‘How Our Past Is Helping to Shape Our Future' is a prime example of the brand’s meaningful, inspirational and data-driven content, using digital insights, metrics and anecdotal evidence to shape its content ideas and strategy.

In this video-driven article, the company highlights its vision for the future while celebrating its longstanding history though the endearing, entertaining and insightful views of former Chevy Chief Truck Engineer Paul Hitch, an incredible man who turned 101 years old this year.

GM is a true and ongoing American success story. Despite severe setbacks that almost resulted in its extinction from the automotive industry, it’s GM’s commitment to innovation, its willingness to evolve and its unrivalled innovation that has secured its success, turning the brand from zero to hero once again.

With autonomous vehicles and a host of other trailblazing technological developments on the horizon and the astute ability to communicate its news, culture and brand ideals to its diverse customer base in a dynamic, personal and inspirational fashion across multiple channels, the company is likely to continue as a major force long into the future.

The story of GM goes to show that, with the right products, a culture that embraces emerging technologies, a commitment to an ongoing digital transformation and a robust approach to modern marketing strategies, it’s possible to enjoy a long and prosperous professional future, no matter what roadblocks emerge.

The General Motors website homepage portrays a positive, progressive image. Credit:
The General Motors website homepage portrays a positive, progressive image. Credit:

Key Takeaways

  • GM was formed in the early 1900s and for almost a century, the company pioneered the automotive industry with innovations that changed the world of transportation.
  • Due to a series of losses and setbacks, GM filed for bankruptcy in 2009 but was bailed out by the US government.
  • In 2014, the company appointed Mary T. Barra as the world’s first female CEO of a major motoring brand.
  • In 2015, GM suffered a devastating PR blow due to a faulty vehicle ignition causing 124 deaths.
  • By realigning its values, refreshing its company culture and evolving its digital marketing efforts, GM began rebuilding its reputation.
  • Though an innovative mix of products, services, social media, video strategy and innovative, data-driven content marketing efforts, the company is once again one of the leaders of the American automotive industry, restoring its reputation and securing a bright and prosperous future.

Dan Hughes
Dan Hughes

Dan is a content writer specializing in digital marketing, emerging tech, music and looking after a toddler. You can find out more about him and his work by visiting his Catchy Space.

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