Chevy Believes in Finding New Roads

Engage April 13, 2017

Chevy Believes in Finding New Roads

Andy Swindler
Conscious businesses prosper through purpose-driven people-first practices, but many still struggle to tell their courageous stories. I help connect the dots.

When Chevrolet Motor Company was founded in 1911, it was a small company that prided itself on designing stylish yet affordable cars as an alternative to the competition. Over the next hundred years, Chevrolet grew into the global company it is today with more than 6,000 dealers operating in 115 countries. From the beginning, Chevrolet focused on innovation, continuously updating their old models while introducing new ones unlike competitors that produced much the same model year after year.

By the late 1920s Chevys were outselling the competition, but over the next two decades, new cars became a luxury few could afford or impossible to buy because of World War II shortages. So, it’s not surprising that by the late ‘50s and early ‘60s (when Chevrolet was at the top of its game) there was a pent-up demand for new cars. That, coupled with cheap gas and a brand new interstate system, encouraged families to ‘see the USA in a Chevrolet’ and so millions piled into their powerful and stylish Chevys and headed out to explore parts unknown. Chevy’s glamorous cars didn’t have the safety features we’ve come to expect today and their stylish tail fins certainly weren’t aerodynamic but what they did offer was freedom – unlimited freedom to hit the road and seek out new adventures.

ChevroletThe more things change, the more they stay the same. So, fifty years later, “Find New Roads” is Chevy’s rallying cry. It beckons consumers to take a look at how their lives are progressing and challenges them to find new roads to explore. Chevrolet Chief Marketing Officer Tim Mahoney hopes when people think about finding new roads, a car ride is a big part of that. “It’s probably the first thing you did when you came home from the hospital and all the moments along the way – school, dating, college – the car is part of that journey. We want to capture that sense of emotion.”

To that end, Chevy is on a journey to globalize their brand and stake out a territory that is uniquely theirs in a global market with more than 60 car brands. According to Mahoney, in early 2013, they were looking for an idea that was big enough to resonate around the world and, like our Why statements, they wanted it to be simple, genuine and aspirational. They looked at Simon Sinek’s construct of What We Do, Why We Do It and How We Do It. Mahoney explained it this way, “Most companies know what they do pretty well. We make a lot of different kinds of cars. The why is really about this ideal meaningful life journey that we think people are on and we want to be part of that. But we didn’t really clarify very well the how we do it. So taking a backward look with a forward approach is how we settle on that idea.” It’s important that the What, Why and How all balance around their core idea of challenging people to “Find New Roads” and possibilities.

Chevrolet kicked off their new branding campaign in early 2014. For Mahoney, the first big pivot was putting the platform in place. They had to create a new system that could provide the stewardship and guidance for the brand. Their biggest challenge was moving from a regional to a global marketing leader. Although their brand was operating in many countries, it was viewed through a geographic lens. For perhaps the first time, the company used a unifying idea, “Find New Roads,” across all markets, but they were careful to balance their global branding by remaining locally relevant as well. Chevrolet put together a constellation of agency people from social media, creative and public relations who produced content in hub moments that they could then move around to the world. They relied on digital because it was the ideal way to reach out to their customers all over the world. As Mahoney put it, “When you think about getting close to your customers, most of them sleep with their phones nowadays”.

ChevyEven though Chevrolet makes some of the most digitally connected cars in the world, they are acutely aware that digital devices can be distracting and can take away from the meaningful experience they’re trying to promote in people’s lives. Chevrolet decided to try a social experiment asking people if they would give up their phones for a day. In exchange, Chevrolet gave them a vehicle so they could spend a day with someone where it really meant something to find new roads together. Mahoney told us how gratifying it was to see the expressions on their faces as people re-connected in meaningful ways. So once again Chevrolet was trying to find the right balance – this time the balance between helping people stay digitally connected with the world without interfering with the personal connections Chevrolet is trying to promote.

Chevrolet’s ultimate goal is to build a brand that inspires passion and loyalty and, since a brand is dependent on the goodwill a company builds with its stakeholders, Mahoney says it’s a good idea to build up additional goodwill in case of an emergency. Or in Chevrolet’s case, he believes their passionate and loyal customers will be more willing to forgive and forget a bad launch if they’ve built up extra good will in their brand loyalty bank. It certainly can’t hurt.

For more than a century, Chevrolet has been on a fascinating journey filled with switchbacks, side roads and straightaways. They’ve avoided obstacles when they could and accepted challenges when they couldn’t, all the while moving forward. Their current journey is leading to global branding and, while Chevrolet has run across its share of pitfalls and potholes, they are learning from these as they go. Mahoney thinks that’s a good thing because “a learning organization is really a smart organization.” So Chevrolet continues its road trip, ever curious to discover what might be just around the next curve. To Chevrolet, “Find New Roads” is more than just a branding device or tag line; it’s applies to the company too. It’s meant to change the way they do business. The opening line in Chevrolet’s brand book says it best, “Every road leads us to some place we’re not, but could be.”