The Customer as Compass: GM’s Strategy

Gm Ceo Mary Barra
GM's CEO: Mary Barra, the first woman to lead a major auto company

By ‘Customer,’ GM Means YOU: How They’re Learning What Matters Most

Back in the day, car companies would only market cars to men; they didn’t believe any other segment of the population made car buying decisions. But of course, today marketing demographics are very different (they were then, too, but that’s a different story for another day).

When she first took over as CEO, Mary Barra led with the GM strategy: “The customer is our compass,” she said.

We Love This Idea, But Really, What Does It Mean?

General Motors knows this: most women come to a GM car dealership ready to buy—they have researched and made their decision. So knowing what the customer wants and needs before she gets to the dealership is key.

On a recent visit to GM’s research and innovation campus in Warren, MI, Heather Lanzi of GM’s Global Market Research department shared with how the “Customer as Compass” works:

GM is a Diverse Workplace

Just like the U.S., and the world beyond it, GM has built a diverse workforce of talented people to design, build and market its cars. A look at GM”s leadership shows a great number of women and multiple nationalities at all levels of leadership and throughout the company.

Senior Gm Leadership Is A Diverse Group

Some of General Motors top leaders participate in a discussion on diversity’s role at the company. L-R: Eric Peterson, Diversity Dealer Relations, Reggie Humphrey, Supply Diversity, Megan Stooke, Global Marketing, Lori Wingerter, GM Foundation, and Ken Barrett, Chief Diversity Officer (Photo by Jose Juarez for General Motors)

Diversity isn’t just good policy, it”s good customer insight. By having a team made up of people just like the ones who buy its cars, the company can more easily understand and adapt to what its customers want and need.

“Listening” Is The New Communication

Companies all over the globe have put a new priority on listening to the customer, perhaps because it’s where the key to business lies.

In General Motor’s case, they not only do market research and interviews, but they maintain communities of car owners (many GM owners, but some own other brands, too) so they can hear all about what customers want, need, are interested in and annoyed with.

Listening is done in person (focus groups), on line (through digital communities) and socially. This means that your voice can be heard by the car maker if you’ll put it out there: Facebook and Twitter are the most powerful, and be sure to hashtag your comment so they see it: #GM, #Chevy, #Buick, #GMC, #Cadillac.


Top leaders at GM include (l-r) Liz Iversen, vice president, Global Quality, Mary Sipes, executive director, Global Portfolio Planning and Marketing Integration, Diana Tremblay, vice president, Global Business Services, Helen Emsley, director of Global GMC Design

General Motors Also Likes To Watch

GM wants to see how people use their cars, how they live their lives in them and what they might need from a car that the company can accommodate.

Understanding Demographic Trends

As populations grow and mature, understanding what forms people’s values, opinions and shopping preferences is important. Knowing this gives car makers insight into building cars that will meet your needs when you look for a new car.

Research isn’t just shared with marketing; it’s available to—and requested by—teams all over the whole company. This means when they discover that women keep breaking their fingernails on car door handles, the engineering team that designs door handles gets that information.

Gm Diversity Group With The Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

Our group gathered around the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

All This Is Good To Know; But What Do You Do With This Information?

Let GM know what you think, want, need and crave in your car, or your next car.

Because it’s not all that often that corporations truly want to know what you think about their products.



Disclosure: I was General Motor’s guest at the company’s campus and proving ground, and GM accommodated my travel, but I was not compensated by GM for this story.

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss