We never thought we’d be saying this, but a lot of companies could learn a thing or two about innovation from General Motors.
GM beat every other car manufacturer to market with the first practical Electric Vehicle – the Chevy Volt. This disruptive innovation delivers on most of our GameChanger success principles, and it was launched in an interesting way.
Six weeks ago, GameChanger received one
of the first 500 Chevy Volts off the assembly line. Nearly everyone on our team now has tried it out (including a few of our clients), and the verdict is overwhelmingly positive. More importantly, General Motors is demonstrating some rare nimbleness in their approach to developing, testing and launching the Volt – some of the exact same things we’ve been preaching .
Things we Like
1) Find the Fanatics.
The GM team did their homework on the consumer target – modern green enthusiasts. Unlike the green enthusiast of 20 years ago who believed in personal sacrifice, today’s green consumer expects to have it all – via smarter use of technology – for a slightly higher pricing. The Volt delivers. It offers an amazingly smooth, peppy ride (as good or better than any gas-powered vehicle), and the interior is loaded with gizmos and creature comforts – including a remote control starter that works from an app on your iPhone.
2) Create a Lifestyle Product.
One of our key principles is that it is important to tailor new products to a narrow target – a single lifestyle  – vs. following the mass market and trying to be all things to all people. We also believe it is important to give your fanatics product features that excite them (even if they annoy others). Again GM scores high on this. The Volt control panel has several features to allow the fanatical energy saver to monitor energy consumption and adjust driving style, climate settings, etc. to optimize power utilization.
3) Learn and adjust your offering based on live market testing.
GM’s Year I launch is a slightly larger version of a GameChanger Retail Lab . The company is only selling 4,000 vehicles in 5 states in 2011. Not everything was perfected at the time of launch (another thing we like). For example, our dealer doesn’t yet have information about the maintenance schedule. “We’ll let you know,” they said. GM is compensating for this by giving every owner a personal customer service representative. These personal reps are based in Detroit and connected to the GM marketing group – so the marketing team stays informed about what the lead consumers are thinking. Not a bad way to do real time consumer research. Our rep has been in touch with us about once a week since we purchased our vehicle.
4) Don’t over-invest in the initial product, until you get consumer feedback.
Instead of designing and building a whole new vehicle, GM retrofitted one of its European models (the Chevy Cruze ) with a battery system. This saved significant time and cost, and allowed Chevy to get the Volt on the market before its competitors. To compensate and give the consumer an experience that exceeds expectations, Chevy loaded the Volt with almost every feature imaginable, including two video screens on the dashboard.
5) Word of Mouth.
Chevy is doing a great job building a cadre of fanatics who are spreading the word to others (a key part of our GameChanger model) and helping these fanatics spread their enthusiasm through well-timed PR.
Things GM Still Needs to Work on
1. Own the Complete Experience.
While GM’s customer service is great, it has fumbled on the charging units. The Volt comes with everything you need to charge it in a regular 120v outlet. But with an upgraded 240v connection, charging is greatly improved. There are government incentives for homeowners to install these, making them essentially free. But the company that controls these (not GM) has lousy service and uncompetitive installation pricing – and GM has not yet stepped in to fix the situation. As the innovator, you need to ensure your customers are able to achieve a complete experience – even if it means cajoling third parties to perform.
Based on all of the ads we’ve seen so far, it looks like this is at least a $50-100 million traditional TV media launch . While we applaud the commitment, there are much more efficient ways to spread the word about an innovation this exciting. Many good products fail because their owners over-invest in marketing that doesn’t work during the launch year – and then pull way back once they realize how much money they’re losing. Even though GM may have money to burn, a better approach would be more graduated spending that is targeted to the potential early adopter fanatics and builds momentum over time.
Nonetheless, GM’s success in getting a disruptive innovation like this on the market fast gives us hope that any company – no matter what your past track record – can be a great innovator, if you commit to doing it.