It’s been reported in several media over the past week or two that GM is considering changing its logo to green to reflect a leaner, more environmentally conscious identity.
I can’t think of anything less meaningful to the company or its customers.
GM’s future has nothing to do with telling the world that it’s lean and green — which is what the new logo color is supposed to represent. The only thing that matters is whether the public comes to perceive that GM and its products reflect the right values.
Honda and Toyota do well in the U.S. (and most places) because, to a vast number of people, their brands have come to represent cars that are among the easiest and most enjoyable to own: affordable, reliable, durable and neither too ugly nor too fancy. People didn’t come to feel that way because Toyota and Honda continually told us that their cars were just right (even though they DO continuously tell us). People came to feel that way because their experience was consistent with all the wonderful things Toyota and Honda always say about themselves.
GM would argue that it’s making cars with these same wonderful attributes. Whether that’s true is irrelevant. What matters is whether people perceive that it’s true.
Further, it’s not enough for people to agree when GM says it. People have to assign these attributes to GM products without any prompting before GM can regain its role as a leader in the global auto industry. That’s what branding is all about. And it takes years — not just years of marketing, but years of consistency in what you promise and what you deliver. Today, GM is still too close to the Hummer for anyone to really believe that it cares a lick about lean and about that kind of green.
GM may engineer a financial recovery over the next couple years, and that will be a great thing. But it’s going to take far longer than that for people to know, in their bones, that GM stands for lean and green — if, in fact, that’s really what GM wants for the long haul.
And I don’t even think that’s the right message. Because in 15 years, green is going to be the price of entry in the car business; if your products aren’t environmentally responsible, then you won’t thrive. So is GM going to rebuild its very identity around meeting the next generation’s minimum standards?
Do Honda and Toyota really get respect for the energy efficiency of their fleets? Or do they get respect for pursuing a mission — building cars that people want to own — with so much focus that energy efficiency naturally became a part of it at the right time? Their fleets were energy efficient before the 2008 run-up in gas prices. The only thing that changed was the advertising.
If the new GM is smarter than the old GM, it will focus on the reasons people really buy cars — the perfect combination of price, style, durability, maintainability and lifetime affordability. Green fits in there for sure. But it won’t always be the headline. And even today, I doubt it’s the reason most people choose which car to buy.