This weekend I stumbled upon an interesting TED video. Simon Sinek presented an interesting concept on inspiration and leadership called the Golden Circle. In it he focuses on the importance in believing in what it is you do. He says “the goal isn’t to do business with people who need what you have, but to do business with people that believe in what you do”.
I know what you are thinking – deep stuff, right? And what the hell does this have to do with the automotive world? Shortly after watching this video I clicked over to watch the latest episode of Autoline Detroit. John McElroy was talking with Ralph Gilles, CEO of Dodge brand & Senior Vice President of Design for the Chrysler Group. Still fresh in my mind was this concept of Sinek’s Golden Circle. Then I realized something; Gilles gets it.
My knowledge of Corporate America is limited to the receiving end of a “buy this” marketing effort and boy am I easy prey. While I may not know the industry very well, I do know what excites me (enter “that’s what she said” joke). Listening to Gilles does just that. Go on snicker away and laugh it up. And NO, it has nothing to do with his eyes either. Let me explain.
Think about Dodge for a minute. Now set aside all the interior upgrades, drive train improvements and Michael Hall preaching “You NEED a Dodge”. Instead focus on the why behind Dodge. What does the brand mean to you? See, I never cared much for Dodge. I know they made good trucks and the Viper. Short of that I had zero interest in the brand, that is until I listened to Gilles speak. After hearing him speak with so much excitement and passion for the brand, I found myself searching YouTube for Charger videos. While you might not really get the why from one video, you’ll walk away excited for the product without every having driven it.
I’m not sure what makes Gilles’ message more effective – his dressed down just-another-car-guy style or him out meeting fans and playing with new products. He makes the brand look “fun”. Either way he speaks to me as an enthusiast in a “one car guy to another” sort of way.
I racked my brain thinking who else in the industry pulls off the enthusiast-executive so well and makes their product look this fun. I’m sure there are plenty of suits out there who are car guys, but none pull it off like Gilles does.
Sure companies like Ford have dominated the world of social media and marketing. Their CEO, Alan Mulally, is always bubbling over with positive words and has Ford on a path to “sustainable profitability” in industry speak. This has been an effective recipe for Ford. I just feel their message is missing that “fun person” ingredient. Best in class, best in fuel economy, best in quality – check, check and check. But where is the spokesman for exciting? Why isn’t Mark Fields sliding around in a Mustang BOSS at a track with other Ford fans?
Although Chrysler’s delineation of brands might not have the single-mission/message that Ford has, it does allow each brand to mature independently with their own distinctive personality and flavor. It’s going to be exciting to watch the Chrysler brands grow and develop into (more) standalone monikers. Dodge looks to have the perfect wheelman leading their team.
As owners connect on more personal levels with brands, they expect a similar connection reciprocated. They want executive heros or champions with personalities and passion. NASCAR was once a place where automakers had fans, but its the drivers who fans come to see not manufactures.
To be a successful car brand you need two people at the top. A tedious MBA who spends all day babysitting cash flow numbers and a burnout-happy, lover of all things automotive. This person will beat the product drum, get dirty with fans on a track and isn’t afraid to dance with bean counters. Ralph Gilles appears to be just such a guy. I see great things in Dodge’s future, lets just hope someone else doesn’t take notice and snatch him up before he can truly see the fruits of his labor.