One of the greatest social media campaigns of all time happened in 1923 when Albert Sloan created a brand for General Motors. What made this campaign incredible is that Mr. Sloan took Ford Motor Company’s greatest strength and used this strength to defeat Ford. He also took his greatest weakness at GM and made it his greatest strength. I think that this is an important point to emphasize in today’s social media era. In creating social media strategy an opponent’s greatest strength can become the means by which you can defeat that opponent. In competing against an opponent, your greatest weaknesses can be your greatest strength. To be successful in social media, a marketer must be humble and they must be flexible. In the end, Albert Sloan won a resounding victory because he was flexible, but humble. Conversely, Henry Ford was defeated because he was not humble and he was not flexible.
The Model T Ford came on the market in 1908. By 1923 the Ford brand had produced 90% of the cars that were then driving on the American road. The Ford brand seemed an insurmountable brand to overcome. Ford’s strength was the low end of the market. They had a market share of 60% for this segment, compared to GM’s 6%. General Motors strength was the high end with its Cadillac brand, but few people could afford this car. General Motors great strength did not seem to be that much of a strength.
General Motor’s great strength was social media. Because of social media, Albert Sloan knew that the General Motors brand was well positioned to become the pre-imminent brand in automobiles. Mr. Sloan’s social media also explained to him that Ford was actually very vulnerable.
Social Media is when the brand and customer engage one another on a personal level. In social media, the brand takes on a human dimension. The brand becomes “a friend”. When a person is a friend you communicate to them. You find out just where they are coming from. This is what General Motors, in the person of Albert Sloan did in 1923. In 1923, General Motors was, as it were, “a modern social media brand”.
When Mr. Sloan came to General Motors in 1920, he toured the country. He talked to people. He talked to customers; he talked to GM sales people. He got to know the American public. He understood that the American public had changed. Had changed in General Motors favor.
There was now a middle class in America with disposable income. These people wanted a car that was priced at a level they could afford, but they also wanted a car that comfortable, and enjoyable to ride in. They wanted a car that looked nice. People wanted to drive a cool car and were now willing to pay for cool. Mr. Sloan began to realize that brand image was becoming an important issue in the purchase of a car.
Brand image became a strength for General Motors. Not that many people could afford to buy Cadillacs, but THEY WANTED TO. All of a sudden, this great weakness at the high end, became a strength. General Motors was now seen as the “cool” brand, and people began to want General Motor cars.
Social Media told Mr. Sloan that he could now compete in the low end. He created a Chevrolet that had self starters, in car heaters, and windshield wipers. It cost a little more than a Model T, but the extras seemed a bargain. The strength that the Model T had at the lower end now became a weakness. A car that seemed “practical” was now “old”, whereas Chevy was “cool”. Through his use of Social Media, Mr. Sloan overtook the Ford brand. He made weaknesses strengths and strengths weaknesses.