Don't Eat The Apple, GM. Get The Girl

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt

When, a few days ago, I wrote my rant about GM wanting to be like Apple, I did a bad job. My point was not that GM can’t be like Apple because it doesn’t have an aluminum unibody, my point was not GM’s number of platforms, my point was not that GM wants to marginalize Opel by being Apple, my point was not that Ford is closer to being Apple, my point was not that Sony and its “Sony timer” will never be like Apple, my point was not that Apple is like BMW.

Apparently, I failed to get my point across.

My point was that any CEO or marketing manager who wants his company to be like another company should abdicate and apply for a job at that other company. Or that he should be taken out and shot, in an act of mercy killing.

My point was that GM should be like GM.

If you want to be the market leader, then you need to lead the market. If you ape other companies, you look like a monkey. Sure, there is nothing wrong with benchmarking and “adapting” a good idea or two. Do it, and keep it to yourself. But for heaven’s sake, don’t issue a press release!

In real life and marketing, there is one golden rule:

Be yourself.

And then, mercilessly refine and improve what you have got.

The core of branding is to be unique. Trying to be someone else is the antithesis of being unique, and a road to failure. Even the best Elvis impersonator will always be an impersonator, at best, he will be an impostor.

I was reminded of that by an email I received today by a good friend of mine (you know who you are), who knows a hell of a lot, and who throws a hell of a lot into the wind, including the rules of proper capitalization (of words.) He writes:

“sometimes i’m glad the auto chiefs say stupid things. then the business papers sometimes write a good follow-up article. thought you might find this to be interesting.”

Attached was a link to a Postrel article in Bloomberg. A while ago, I would have thought a postrel is some kind of a dessert. Virginia Postrel is the author of “The Substance of Style”, and of “The Future and its Enemies”, two of the best business books you can buy. She is also the author of “To Be the Next Apple, Lose the Bafflegab,” the article we are talking about here.

Like me a few days ago, she notes that “everybody, it seems, wants to be like Apple.” Even “Google is buying Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc., many observers say, so it can integrate hardware and software to be like Apple.” And then she goes on a rant against pointless drivel and fluff, that makes me jump up from my chair, whack the table, and shout “Yessss, Virginia!”

“Strategy is not what many people think it is. It is not a fill-in-the-blanks mission statement blathering about how XYZ Corp. will ethically serve its stakeholders by implementing best-in-class integrated sustainable practices to grow as a global leader while maximizing shareholder value. Such bafflegab is “Dilbert“-fodder that generates cynicism and contempt. It is, at best, a big waste of time.”

Victoria explains the difference between a strategy, a mission statement, a goal, and the vision thing. These differences are often forgotten, confused, perverted, gang-raped.

A former old school Volkswagen manager of the Beetle era once told me (in private): “I only have visions when I’m drunk.”

He was a dinosaur from the olden days when VW was a bafflegab-free zone. He became part of the “biological solution” and made room for an army of PowerPointers with a Ph.D. in Dilbertology.

In closing, Virginia gives unpaid advice to GM and the legions of others who want to be like Apple:

“So if you really want to be like Apple, drop the fluff- filled vision statements and magical wishes. Pretend your company’s existence is at stake, coldly evaluate the environment, and make choices. Stop thinking of strategy as meaningless verbiage or financial goals and treat it as a serious design challenge.”

To which I may add:

And forget about being like Apple.

Simply be your best. Trust me, it’s hard enough.

Bertel Schmitt
Bertel Schmitt

Bertel Schmitt comes back to journalism after taking a 35 year break in advertising and marketing. He ran and owned advertising agencies in Duesseldorf, Germany, and New York City. Volkswagen A.G. was Bertel's most important corporate account. Schmitt's advertising and marketing career touched many corners of the industry with a special focus on automotive products and services. Since 2004, he lives in Japan and China with his wife <a href=""> Tomoko </a>. Bertel Schmitt is a founding board member of the <a href=""> Offshore Super Series </a>, an American offshore powerboat racing organization. He is co-owner of the racing team Typhoon.

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  • Philosophil Philosophil on Aug 21, 2011

    "Be yourself" is actually a tough one to crack. We use the phrase all the time, but I don't think any of us has a clear understanding of what that actually means. After all, most people wouldn't want someone who is arrogant, selfish, malicious, envious, criminal, and so on to continue to just 'be themselves.' Most of us would want such a person to change, to become a 'better person,' as it were. So what could 'be yourself' actually mean? One might say to 'be oneself' one first has to 'know thyself,' but this too is not nearly as simple or easy as it sounds. There is a great deal of truth to the claim that "One is as one does" (or has developed a tendency to do--which we usually call 'character'). If you consistently behave in a selfish manner, then you are selfish. If you are willing to face the things you fear (without being foolhardy), then you are courageous, and so on. So when assessing a person or company, we often focus on the 'character' they have developed over the years. What is GM's character? Well, most seem to agree that GM shouldn't simply return to its past practices because it's previous character as a company (e.g., arrogant, overly self-confident, unwilling to listen or learn, etc.) was seriously flawed and needs to be improved. What is it's current character? I would actually suggest that it's still trying to build one. What model should it follow? Edward (and Bertel, by the sounds of it) seem to be suggesting that, while GM should obviously be willing to listen and learn from others (other situations, other practices, and so on), what it should not do is simply become a follower of others, that is, it shouldn't be merely reacting to what others do (which is of the character of a follower). Followers rarely act, but usually just react, they rarely lead or take an independent path, but usually try instead to simply mimic those practices or fashions that have been employed successfully by others (simply because they seem to work, but without ever really understanding why they do so). Rather than innovate or try something that seems too far outside the box, they will simply continue using what has worked for them in the past, and hence never evolve so as to remain attuned to the ever-shifting conditions of life. I should add here that sometimes reverting to what has worked in the past is actually the best thing to do (which is one of the fundamental tenets of traditional conservatism), but this rule doesn't apply all the time, and needs to be adjusted as realities shift, and particularly when such shifting occurs at a rapid pace. Knowing when to revise and adjust, however, is one of those great talents that few of us truly have. When Edward and Bertel say that GM should 'be itself,' I think what they really mean is that GM should, as a company, think for itself (instead of simply mimicking what has worked for others, e.g., Apple). This does not, of course, preclude listening and learning from others (in fact, it probably demands it), but rather to try and develop its own plan and to follow its own path with the general aim of becoming and remaining a successful business in the long run. I think the one mistake that many people (and companies) make when it comes to addressing problems, challenges and difficulties is to think that there is some simple and easy 'formula' or 'recipe' that you can just apply and follow, and all will be well. Self-help books, pop psychology, and 'inspirational speakers' are just full of this crap, and people eat it up like it was milk from mother nature's teat. There is no simple recipe for success in business (or happiness in life). One has to be willing to grow and learn anew, and never stop doing so... Sorry for the rant...

    • See 4 previous
    • Philosophil Philosophil on Aug 22, 2011

      @Pch101 I thought I included that when I said that one should "listen and learn from others," and "that sometimes reverting to what has worked in the past is actually the best thing to do" (which would obviously include "copying marketing models that work"). I wasn't implying that one couldn't do as others had done successfully. That would be silly. There's a difference between doing the same thing because it's the best thing to do, and doing the same thing simply because it worked for someone else (i.e., simple mimicking without knowing why it worked, or whether it will work again, or whether it will work in your particular circumstances and case, and so on). I was advocating the former, not the latter.

  • Eldard Eldard on Aug 21, 2011

    Apple is just doing what Microsoft, Nokia and Google did years ago. Make your products easy to use even though there's nothing really revolutionary about them.

  • Crown Seems like they cut some cylinders too.A three cylinder...where are they planning on selling that??
  • Slavuta "There’s also the problem of climate change, and the more intense weather that comes along with it"How could one even write something like this? We don't have more intense weather. We have better weather. When Earth started, it was a fiery ball. We don't know what weather was in 1700. And even if we know some of it in Europe, we don't know what was happening in Africa, South America, Oceania, etc. We have people living in places where they did not live before. We have news that report weather related events minutes later or during. This did not happen before. There is no evidence that we have an increase in intensity. I looked into historical records in the area where I live - there is not much movement at all between 1970 and now. And remember - none of the previous weather predictions have materialized.
  • VoGhost Very soon, every home will have a 240v outlet in the garage, which can function as your electric charger, just like a modern home has 120v electric outlets and light switches inside the house. This is where the market is going. You all would see that if you didn't have those oil soaked blinders on.
  • Slavuta "COVID-19 brought a level of brazenness behind the wheel"Covid 19 did not bring anything. This is people in charge brought everything we have today
  • Juan EV's are all rainbows and unicorns until you actually want to go somewhere.