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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.

5. Representatives are the face of the company
At GM, the Sales and Service Consultants at the dealerships are the company’s face to the consumer. GM is instituting comprehensive training programs to help the dealership community connect with the diverse automobile buying market that exists in their own backyards. 
The first auto company to start a minority dealer program in the U.S., GM now has an all-time high of 379 minority-owned dealerships – bringing in over $11.8 billion in revenue.
6. Give back to the community 
GM supports hundreds of organizations that make a difference in communities throughout the world and encourages its employees to do the same.  Not just because automobile buyers are more likely to support a company that supports their community, but it is the right thing to do too.  
Last year, we gave over $9.2 million to minority organizations and events in the US. Gave away 100,000 child safety seats worth $2.5 million to African American families. And, just as our cars inspire songs, such as “Pink Cadillac” and “Little Red Corvette,” so too does music inspire us.  That’s one of the reasons GM is a proud sponsor of the Stellar Gospel Awards and the Chevy Stellar Youth Choir in Detroit.
7. Link diversity success to overall success
At GM diversity markets are a top business priority and are recognized as essential for overall company growth with aggressive performance metrics. After all, if it can’t be measured, it can’t be improved. 
GM cars, trucks and SUVs won 149 awards for automotive excellence last year alone.  But the real winners were the people who ended up behind the wheel.
8. Support from the top
Commitment to diversity programs begins and belongs at the top.  Gary Cowger, President of GM North America and the GM Corporate Strategy Board established the Center of Expertise for Diversity and Growth Markets to spearhead the company’s initiative and coordinate internal and external activities for maximum business results. 

The Center Stage

As diversity-marketing programs flourish across myriad industries best practices are established and lessons are shared.  Some basic building blocks of diversity marketing are illustrated in the GM experience, such as the importance of understanding cultural nuances, communicating in a respectful manner and fostering diversity internally as well as externally. 

Without commitment, these building blocks will topple.  Many diversity programs have failed because funding was tenuous or the commitment from the top and support from the bottom simply wasn’t there.  Others, like GM’s are destined to succeed – to take center stage – because they are bigger than marketing – they pervade the organization, they are part of a long-term strategy and they are built using solid business fundamentals that will reap a positive return on investment.  Miriam Muléy is the Executive Director of the Center of Expertise for Diversity and Growth Markets at General Motors Corporation, the world’s largest automobile manufacturer based in Detroit, Michigan.  GM has nine brands in the United States including Cadillac, Buick, Saturn and Chevrolet.


About the Author:

Mariam Muléy is responsible for all sales and marketing activities targeting diversity audiences – including Hispanics, African Americans, Asian Americans, Youth and Women – the fastest growing car-buying segments in the automotive industry.  

Ms. Muléy has spent the majority of her 20+ years of marketing working in brand management and in industries where women are the primary target – from Johnson & Johnson Baby Products Company, to Clairol hair coloring products, to AVON where she was General Manager for cosmetics, fragrances and skin care targeted to women of color.  She received a B.A. in Psychology from Marymount Manhattan College and was awarded an MBA from Columbia University with a concentration in Marketing.

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