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I’m rooting for GM.  I hope and expect that they’ll be fine.  There are lessons for us, however, in watching them respond to their situation.  Lessons on what NOT to do.

I’m a small business marketing consultant who’s called into every conceivable situation, good and bad.  GM has many issues I don’t know about or probably wouldn’t understand if I did that have made the slowdown in demand for cars so devastating.  However, two things have been painfully obvious: if they hadn’t been so married to the profits in big SUVs and trucks, they wouldn’t be in this mess; if they hadn’t been acting in such half measures these past few years, they wouldn’t be in this mess.

Is there a person in American who couldn’t have told GM three years ago the obvious, that the era of big SUVs is coming to an end?  How long ago was gas over $4/gallon?  How long ago was there a waiting list to buy a Prius?

Lesson #1: Embrace reality.  Your marketing will improve if you do.

I don’t fault GM for selling people big SUVs.  I fault them for not at the same time creating a “moon shot” program to develop the types of hybrid and electric cars people wanted and want to buy.  They might argue they have done this.  They haven’t (see Lesson #2 below).  If they had we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Now, forget about GM, they may be too large to fail, but you aren’t.  Nobody’s bailing you out.  So, embrace reality.  If people haven’t slowed down buying what you sell, but the writing’s on the wall that they will, get busy with Plan B.  What will they buy?  Start developing or sourcing that.  Don’t wait.  That’s the GM lesson.

Lesson #2: When you act to solve a marketing problem, make sure you solve the problem.

I heard a GM spokesperson on TV talking proudly about how many cars they have that average over 40 MPG and touting their new hybrids.  That’s just pathetic.  First, nobody’s buying those 40 MPG cars, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation.  Second, GM’s newest hybrids (at least the ones they’re spending millions promoting): Escalade and Tahoe.

If so many good people weren’t losing their jobs because of management’s stupidity, introducing a hybrid Escalade would be laughable.  Seriously, a hybrid Escalade. Gee, is that like low-fat bacon?

So, if you have a problem to solve, make sure your solution is a solution.

I always ask the “zero-based” question at times like these: if you were starting over, right now, in your space, what product would you sell, how would you sell it and who would you invest money in promoting it to?  That’s what you should be doing right now, not introducing a hybrid Escalade.

The answer to the “what product would you sell?” part of that question sounds an awful lot like, in GM’s case, the Chevy Volt, right?  All electric, good range, looks cool.  Except it’s too expensive and way, way late.

Again, if you have a problem to solve, make sure your solution is a solution.  And again, forget about GM.  But nobody’s going to bail you out except you.  So, embrace the reality you’re in, and when you act, make sure you make changes that are big enough to make a difference.  And please, no Escalade hybrids!