Brand Story


Keeping an iconic brand alive

During the early 1980s the domestic “big three” car companies had a challenge.
Imports were impacting sales, profits, market share and stock prices. They were worried. Cost cutting spread, threatening new vehicle programs, niche programs and low volume models. Corvette was losing money and the pressure for executives to do something grew. A number of executives at General Motors began to talk about the unthinkable:
possibly killing one of the greatest brand icons in the world.

The “car guys” at GM knew the unique value of the Corvette brand, independently of whether or not it made money. The brand was the platform for innovation and it generated the most excitement of any of models offered by the company. They had to keep it, or the company would lose its soul. But the “bean counters” had a different perspective in the face of the threat from the imports: cut everything that is losing money.
So, Chevrolet’s top marketers decided to launch a special project.

For Corvette to highlight the brand and show the rest of GM what could be done throughout the company to compete with the imports. They spelled out multiple objectives for the project:

  • Demonstrate to engineers the power of Right Brain Research and The Voice of the Customer for product design and development
  • Achieve a common understanding of the challenge and solution amongst key Corvette stakeholders
  • Form a closely knit team to reverse the sales trend for the brand when the newest model was introduced
  • Convince the executive team to breathe new energy and funding into the Corvette brand
  • And of course, to make the Corvette brand profitable again!

Our Approach

We conducted Right Brain Interviews with all the stakeholder groups:
  • Executive team, including Roger Smith, the Chairman of the Board
  • GM Design Center staff, Corvette platform engineers and the marketing and advertising team for the brand
  • The automotive magazine writers
  • Dealership owners and their salespeople
  • Customers:
    - Corvette Owners
    - Former Corvette Owners
    - Porsche Owners
    - Nissan 300Z Owners
We discovered that Corvette owners feel deeply passionate about their brand. This passion is rooted in their early adolescent days. Many of our Corvette owners told us with remarkable clarity about the impact seeing their first Corvette had on them. Their common story unfolds:

The boy is in junior high-school. A Corvette pulls into the parking lot at his school generating an invisible electricity. The big man on campus (BMOC) from two years ago gets out and is immediately surrounded by action and attention.
It pulls the athletes, the leaders, the admirers and of course the girls into the picture. The boy sees the Corvette as a magical magnet that does for the owner something he cannot do for himself. It creates an aura around him and gives him charisma that he never had, even as a BMOC. The boy is looking on the scene in awe, wanting one of these cars for himself someday. The scene featuring the Corvette makes a permanent lifetime impression on him. He tells himself, “Someday “I will have a car like that!”

But the years go by, the memory of this dynamic event and its impact on him sinks into the deep recesses of his mind. That “someday” he promised himself just does not seem to come to fruition. Work, family and jobs come and he enters middle age. He doesn’t consciously think about it again as his life unfolds.
Corvette Sports Car
But then, in his late forties or into his fifties, things begin to change. He starts feeling that his losing his edge as his vitality and verve for life are slipping from him. Then, suddenly, one day he finds himself in a Chevrolet dealership, opening his checkbook and without much forethought, he is acting on his original impulse, the suggestion he gave himself some 30 or 35 years ago that “Someday, I will have a car like that”.
It turns out that once he arrives at this stage, he is hooked - hooked for a lifetime. He is trying to extend his youthful exuberance indefinitely. The Corvette is the primary tool that allows him to do that, because it is magical for him in so many ways. It confers a feeling of power, uniqueness and even a sense of immortality upon him. Buying and owning the Corvette becomes a transformational experience for him.

How can a mere car have this impact on a person? Because the suggestion he gave himself in his pre-teen or early teen years, a suggestion that never leaves him, becomes a promise to himself, and a promise that the brand is making to him. He never really thinks about it this way, but the brand must deliver on the promise he imagines it made to him or he will feel betrayed.

The Corvette has to last him and all of its devotees for the rest of their lives. It has to last because that is what the brand is offering them – invulnerability. The car cannot show signs of deterioration or their dream will decay. The paint cannot peel. The car cannot begin to rattle. The parts cannot wear out. They have the highest standards for the car, much higher than for any other car or for anything else they buy. They do not realize it, but they are not likely to sell it, not ever. Many Corvette enthusiasts own more than one, some own several and a few own more than that!
Corvette Back Image

This invulnerability is a crucial part of a brand promise. It is not what the company literally says or claims about the brand; rather, it is based on customer expectations which often can be irrational and impossible. Therefore, brand managers need to know for themselves what customers cannot even tell them directly about their expectations in a simple conversation.

The engineers and marketers at GM were surprised at how the “little” quality problems upset the Corvette owners.

Owners of other models would not care about these “little” problems, but, in compromising the brand promise, these “little” problems were driving Corvette owners away from the brand. Too many first time Corvette buyers felt betrayed by execution problems, by the paint chipping and by persistent rattles.

There was more, a lot more to what we discovered, and as it all unfolded it was more than enough to offer hope to the executives at GM that the brand could be a winner again.

Our Solution

We were able to tell the Corvette platform what they needed to do for their next model
The good news is that the problems were not in the design of the product. The design delivered on the brand promise. But the execution did not deliver. Therefore, Corvette needed to invest in the execution, in quality control and in new manufacturing technology for the Corvette.

With a limit of $80 Million to invest in the new platform, getting the priorities in the right order in the design budget was essential for success. Our discoveries about what is most important to their customers allowed us to guide them in doing just that.
We also discovered the secret to closing the sale of the Corvette from the dealership floor. We learned that most Chevrolet dealers and salespeople did not know how to talk to Corvette people, much less how to close a sale. This discovery led to insights into who can and should be selling Corvette as well as new sales training techniques for the Chevrolet dealerships that elect to sell Corvette.
Chevrolet launched the new model. It was a roaring success; it returned Corvette to profitability. The brand resumed its role as a new idea platform for the largest car company in the world. The brand lives on, thriving year after year after several new models. Today, the brand is healthier and more profitable than ever
Corvette Sports Cars