For The Beleaguered Brand, Reliability’s The Message

June 1, 2009 will be remembered by many an economist as the day General Motors (GM) filed for bankruptcy protection – marking the biggest corporate breakdown in U.S. history.

According to the Detroit Free Press, GM will be shedding 2,100 dealers. The new GM would approve “deferred termination agreements” with a majority of those dealers asked to close, giving them 17 months to wind down operations, CEO Fritz Henderson said in an SEC filing.

Furthermore, GM is trimming 3,000 more “white-collar jobs” from its roster; 3,400 such jobs were trimmed by GM earlier this year.

The new GM is getting a $30.1 billion loan from the U.S. government, and expects to spend $18.9 billion should the automaker stay in bankruptcy for a nine-week period, which it is hoping for.

At the same time, another Detroit automaker – Chrysler – is set to emerge from bankruptcy protection in mid-June. The new Chrysler would be owned by Italian automaker Fiat, and in large part by U.S. and Canadian taxpayers.jeep

What’s a CMO to do when it comes to convincing auto buyers that GM and Chrysler remain great choices for the consumer – in particular the loyal Latino?

Marketing consultant and Fox Business guest contributor Julie Roehm has some ideas.

Roehm knows a thing or do about Chrysler – she was director of global marketing communication for Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep from 2001 to 2006. What Roehm says can not only apply to Chrysler and GM, but also to other damaged brands that still seek to lure the Hispanic shopper.

She points out that a first step a troubled company should take when approaching the consumer is to be consistent with its brand communications. By doing so, the company can “earn the relationship” it wishes to solidify with its target audience.

Roehm believes both GM and Chrysler have failed at this task, as much of what’s being said about both brands is coming from Washington, D.C. – and much of it is negative.

“Don’t relinquish the brand message to others,” Roehm advises. She also suggests that a troubled company should “open up the dialogue and have a much more fluid conversation with the consumer.”

Roehm notes, “People get afraid when they are not included in the dialogue, and that includes the Hispanic consumer.”

Yet while there are cultural differences between the Latino consumer and the total market audience, it doesn’t matter what the consumer’s ethnicity is when a company seeks to overcome negative publicity and fix a bruised brand, Roehm says.

What should the subject of that conversation be? “The company should talk about what the future holds for them,” she adds.

In the case of Chrysler and GM, that means not only selling the quality and value of their automobiles, but also educating the public on what Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection means. “Filing for bankruptcy is not a statement of failure,” says Roehm.

In sharing that message, she believes that the automaker should not only send the message that its new vehicles are worthy of purchase but convince current Chrysler and GM owners that their warranties remain valid.

Those messages will continue to be delivered to Latinos via Spanish-language television, in addition to radio, print media and both digital and online initiatives, Roehm believes.

The Spanish-language messages will likely mirror those targeting non-Hispanics, again because of the situation GM and Chrysler are in.

“A lot of times we try to look at the news [affecting a brand] and try to find that spin for the Latino consumer,” Roehm says. “But in this case the problems at GM and Chrysler are not affecting one ethnic group or another. Thus, there should be no large variance in the message.”

julieroehmThat being said, Roehm acknowledges that the Latino consumer maintains a stronger brand affiliation than do non-Hispanics. Thus, for the first-generation Hispanic, the first impression of GM or Chrysler could be of a company in bankruptcy, Roehm warns. “If that’s the case then each certainly have a long way to go to win over that consumer.”

For the CMO, openness with the target audience can come by avoiding a “one-way bill of goods” in its marketing messages, Roehm says.

But if there’s one key message she has for a marketer or brand manager overseeing a damaged brand, it’s this – focus on the reliability of the company, and its products.

* Chrysler invested $2.37 million in Hispanic magazines in 2008, according to Media Economics Group’s HispanicMagazineMonitor. Advertisements for the Dodge Journey accounted for $1.52 million of the activity. GlobalHue Latino is the Hispanic agency of record for Chrysler/Jeep/Dodge, with television and print the two main media for reaching Spanish speakers.

Published: June 02, 2009, Hispanic Magazine

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