GM Chevrolet CMO's Tips on Building a Marketing Strategy from Scratch Chief marketing execs from behemoth corporate brands explain the secrets to genius marketing.

By Tanya Benedicto Klich

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Just when the marketing industry was getting a handle on effective digital and social media, new forces are changing the game yet again: real-time marketing and big data.

Deanie Elsner, CMO at Kraft, says her team has access to two "looking glasses" of giant dashboards that display real-time consumer data; there they can instantly respond to every consumer's whimsical craving with special, targeted deals.

Laura Henderson of Mondelez International, the makers of snacks like Oreo, Chips Ahoy and Dentyne, says they operate in a "war room structure," with a calendar of anticipated events. Teams of Mondelez marketers, lawyers and corporate communication professionals convene to make game-time decisions on the right moment to deploy a campaign. But it has to be the right moment.

Startups don't have a multi-million dollar marketing budget to employ a full-time marketing army, or build a mission control center for big data. But as Henderson said at The Economist's 2014 Big ReThink summit, "You need to start with a cultural transformation. You need the real-time agility to enable empowered marketers and your organization to strive and react to social factors."

But as innovation continues to transform the rules of engagement with consumers, how else can startups keep their marketing up to date? Furthermore, how can startups weather early-stage crises?

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Tim Mahoney, Chief Marketing Officer of Global Chevrolet and Global GM Marketing Operations Leader, agrees that brilliant marketing isn't about budget, but about identifying your audience's passion point. For new companies building a strategy from scratch, Mahoney says to start at square one: "If you're an entrepreneur, you already have a passion because you've taken that leap, so draw on that empathy. My advice is to try to find the perfect intersection of what your product stands for and the consumer's passion point. Understand your own customer's passion point so well that everything falls into place. It can be reduced to that."

Mahoney is also managing the GM brand through its worst crisis since emerging from bankruptcy in 2009. He recently told the Detroit Free Press that the company is "staying focused on the product" and that he is sticking to his marketing strategy despite the recent recalls. To fully grasp Mahoney's "passion point" strategy, we asked him to list and explain his own favorite marketing campaigns:

1) GM centers pickup ads on this messaging because it evokes strong emotions: If you own a pickup, you have more friends. "It can spring a whole variety of reactions."

Here is a recent actor-free ad:

2) Mahoney's team knows Corvette-drivers are generally as passionate about high-tech as they are about sports cars. So at the most recent Consumer Electronics Show, GM announced they will mount GoPro performance data and video recorders to the 2015 Chevrolet Corvette models. Drivers will be able to record, share and playback drives (when parked) on the eight inch touch-screen. "You can imagine Corvette drivers are going to want to start recording as they cruise around. It's all about finding that tool that sets the brand apart," he says.

3) He even gave Honda kudos for being the first automaker to install vacuum cleaners in their minivans. "It debuted at last year's auto show," said Mahoney. "It showed a commitment to their consumers' lifestyles."

Wavy Line
Tanya Benedicto Klich

Data & Featured Lists Editor

Tanya Benedicto Klich is a data and lists editor at

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