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Death of Brand – Mr. Goodwrench, May He Rest In Peace

GM announced the death of the Goodwrench brand this week as part of their overall brand clean-up strategy. My guess is that this was not an easy issue to decide on, nor did the balance of pros and cons clearly tip in favor of a yea or nay.  Goodwrench, as a brand, did pretty well for about 40 years – huge brand recognition, and its brand affinity was spot on. If I had a multi-brand GM store, it was difficult to open one service bay door and specialize in 3-4 brands of service.  Mr. Goodwrench branded the entire batch of GM support that went into extraordinary after-sales support for Chevy, Geo, Pontiac, Buick, Oldsmobile, Cadillac, and GMC truck. It was simple, elegant, and brilliant.  Better yet, it worked and was effective.  Mr. Goodwrench had huge brand recognition.  He “branded” the concept of a trusting, competent, service experience, and he hung out at GM stores.  He was feely-touchy that actually worked.

But, a lot changed in 40 years. If we go back a decade and think about brand simplification in a more traditional media environment, it was easy to poke some holes in Mr. Goodwrench.  Just who was that guy?  Was he a brand of genuine service parts? Was he the tech who worked on your GM car?  Was he a Chevy guy?  Or a Caddy gal?  Did he represent uniform GM service standards? Hard to tell.  But, he’s dead now.

Does this mean that all “service branding” is bad? No. I suspect that GM’s decision- making was more aligned with strengthening the basic vehicle brands than with the economic benefits of brand simplification.  There’s lots here to think about.

The problem with Mr. Goodwrench was in overall vehicle brand management. Here’s the rub in a nutshell.  I buy a Cadillac in 45 minutes; the dealer does not make much from this sale (he makes more from my trade-in); some years GM even loses money on the sale; I become a “service customer” for 4-5 years, spend hours upon hours at the dealership, and I move from the Cadillac brand to a “Goodwrench” brand, … just like my Chevy buddies.  OK, I go to the Caddy dealer for the service, but, I get a Chevy-ized Goodwrench service.  So, I’m in the market for my next car and I talk with my Lexus buddies.  They get “Lexus” service for those 4-5 years.  They tell stories about their dealer.  It is hard to drink a martini and boast about my Chevy-ized Mr. Goodwrench Cadillac service to the Lexus crowd.  It’s just too complicated.  Goodbye Mr. Goodwrench.

That seems pretty compelling.  Let’s do a 360. There are loads of service-parts brands that don’t have a marquee moniker attached: ACDelco (parts), Motorcraft (parts), Mopar (parts and “performance”), Mobis (parts).  In the past few years, Ford launched a different sort of “service brand” called Quick Lane. If you go to the internet you have to be quite discerning to see the link to Ford. Ford’s Quick Lane competes against chains like Jiffy Lube and Firestone/Goodyear.  A lot of the customers in this segment are aftermarket loyalist – they are a “lost generation” of dealer customers – once thought of as gone forever and way too expensive to bring back in.  Ford’s approach was different than GM’s; they came to the table much later and under very different circumstances. Ford re-branded their offerings to a segment of the service and parts market that they were more appropriate term is they “re-entered” the market. The logic of this is compelling – customers stray away from dealers to do simple maintenance at places where they think they can get a better deal in terms of both price and convenience. Younger, more internet-savvy, customers stray even more than our traditional older demographics.  Dealers have age-old poor reputations for price and time-centric convenience (see below).   So, Ford has the Quick Lane brand for that sort of stuff. It is separate, but integrated at the same time – Quick Lanes are owned and operated by Ford dealers and they get all the around-the-wheel sales benefits. Well, they get a little more than that. Since it is associated with a dealer, for these “strayed” customers they get higher vehicle repurchase intent as a side benefit of delivering competent “Quick Lane” service to customers.

The big difference between the Ford and GM strategies was in market segmentation – GM rebranded the entire service market with Mr. Goodwrench, whereas, decades later, Ford re-branded a segment of the market where they had not been competitive.

Bottom Line: Brilliant ideas have a half-life.  They progress from brilliant to average, and on to mundane. Goodwrench seems to have experienced that lifecycle – it was a great idea that wasn’t very good anymore and could not survive the internal gauntlet of critical brand review. So, it died.

But, I wonder.

I wonder if that gold-plated brand, that still has incredible equity, could have been repositioned much like what Ford is doing with Quick Lane???

Previously posted on “Spare Thoughts” by Carlisle and Company

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