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general motors

The center stage, it’s where every top performer wants to be.


When an actor lands a lead role, the sense is that he or she has universal appeal.  That each member of the audience is going to find some thing, some characteristic, some feature that draws him or her to want to watch – to want to be part of what’s about to happen.

So how does a car and truck company get to the center stage?  How does it build products that have universal appeal – vehicles that make people from all walks of life say, “I gotta have that!”

My boss, Gary Cowger, President of GM North America describes it best, “Great products are born of creative organizations that bring to bear diverse perspectives.” Truly, at GM we don’t just talk about diversity, it pervades the organization, and it’s what has fueled our record growth over the last several years.  From the people we hire to our dealers and suppliers and the communities around us – anyone can see that diversity is more than just philosophy.   It’s the way we live and work. 

In fact, it’s because of our varied experiences and perspectives that we’re able to create more than 50 cars, trucks and SUVs that today’s drivers want.  It’s our own diversity, which allows us to come up with innovative designs and features that appeal to customers from all walks of life.  It’s our diversity that’s leading us to create products that actually bring people together – products that unite.

Growth Through Diversity

Women and diversity groups are some of the fastest growing consumer segments.

How big is the opportunity in the U.S. automotive market?

African Americans and Hispanics control almost a trillion dollars in purchasing power. While Asian Americans skew much younger demographically than other diversity groups, their number increased more than 75 percent from 1990 to 2000. In addition, they are generally more affluent and better educated than the rest of the population.

Women are driving important purchase decisions in huge numbers. Consumer spending by women is $3.7 trillion per year. Women are projected to acquire over 85 percent of the $12 trillion growth of U.S. private wealth between 1995 and 2010. And, in the automotive industry, 43% of new car purchases are made by women and 80% are influenced by women.

For manufacturers and marketers, the challenges of reaching these groups are numerous. All of the market segments are separated not only by geography, language and income, but also by cultural nuances. 

Understanding these nuances, and being respectful of the individuality of each of these segments is paramount to developing marketing programs that work, and the “gotta have” products that people want to buy.  GM’s challenge is to understand who these groups are and what is important to them. This can include casting and music in a TV commercial to the style and features of the end product. 

That understanding starts internally.  The result – General Motors created the Center of Expertise and Diversity Growth Markets in direct response to the population and economic growth of diverse consumer groups, including Women, Youth and persons of African, Asian and Hispanic descent.  As the number one automotive leader among these diverse audiences, General Motors has developed marketing and sales programs that complement core business initiatives, yet appeal directly to these important audiences with targeted advertising communications, promotional programs and compelling product design features.

At GM, through the Center of Expertise, we’ve tapped the richest resource we have – our employees. Through our employee affinity groups, we gain the insights into these markets that can be translated into product development, community involvement and marketing programs. In fact, at GM minority and women executives have increased 52% just since 1996, and now account for over 3,000 of the top positions.

One example is Liz WetzelGM’s first female vehicle chief designer and the brains behind the Buick Rendezvous.  A mother who knows what mothers want, she combined the best of a luxury car, SUV and minivan into an award-winning vehicle – complete with a center console roomy enough to hold a purse or diaper bag! 

It’s just one of the many ways that GM is delivering automotive innovations that improve people’s lives.

Secondly, we’ve established aggressive goals and measurements for increasing our market share among diverse groups.  Everyone in the organization is aware of these goals – from the executive boardroom to the individual brand teams.  And everyone has an individual responsibility to ensure that we reach and exceed these goals.  

As proof that diversity marketing knows no bounds, there are at least eight key areas addressed by GM that can be applied to any company seeking to expand into diverse markets.  

1. Communicate on a rational and emotional level
Products like automobiles may be made of steel, rubber and glass, but they have a style and in many ways reflect the sensibilities and lifestyle of their owner.  At GM, recognizing and embracing cultural nuances is at the center of diversity marketing.  The resulting communications and marketing activities resonate with diverse groups and demonstrate that “GM understands and respects my world.” 
2. Recognize the importance of having control over one’s destiny
GM understands that marketing diversity means more than just selling products.  The company has a long history of supporting its employees of all backgrounds through Affinity groups and Human Resources, mentoring programs, networking events and job sharing efforts.  An empowered organization creates breakthrough products.  And a company that creates breakthrough products attracts new and excited employees. 
Asian Engineer of the Year,” Dr. Jenne-Tai Wang’s work has led to fewer crash tests, shorter vehicle development time, and better occupant protection for the automotive industry.  No wonder the Chinese Institute of Engineers/USA gave him this honor – and GM is honored to have him on board.
3. Understand diverse needs
One size does not fit all.  One of the founding principles of General Motors is to provide a vehicle for every lifestyle and life stage.  This is accomplished by bringing diverse perspectives into the fold throughout the design and engineering process.  The resulting products reflect their designers and appeal to a broad spectrum of consumers by incorporating versatility, style and functionality.
4. There is diversity within diversity 
Women and diversity groups come in many shapes, colors, incomes, education backgrounds, values, ages, lifestyles. The term African American, for example, embraces many cultures: including individuals with mixed racial ancestry (i.e., Caucasian/Black, Asian/Black, Indian/Black) and individuals who experienced their culture through different contexts (i.e., African-American; Afro-Caribbean; Afro-Latina).  The business volume associated in reaching and appealing to each group must be evaluated for where there is the greatest return on investment.  As such, GM researched and identified the segments in their respective industries that offer major growth opportunities and developed specific programs to reach them.

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