#TBT: Who Wants to Be a Pontiac?

Happy #TBT! Here’s an oldie-but-goodie post from Jim: Who Wants to Be a Pontiac?

[Editor’s Note: When Jim wrote this on February 20, 2009, Pontiac was still in business. GM discontinued manufacturing and marketing Pontiac on October 31, 2010. This post is a helpful reminder about the importance of branding.]

Not many takers on that, I’m guessing. To put it the way The New York Times Business section did, Pontiac will “shrivel up” over the next couple of years. Here’s the key tidbit:

“On Tuesday, when General Motors asked the federal government for more bailout money, it also announced a reorganization plan that included demoting Pontiac to a “focused niche brand,” signaling that its lineup of vehicles would shrink and that it would no longer be a separate division.”

Here’s a question I ask every new Goldstar employee during the presentation I call Goldstar 101: What does a company mean? I actually use a car example: Volvo means safety. Chevrolet means, well, a little bit of everything.

In fact, this week (with awesome new customer service rep Shaunelle) I actually asked the question, “What does Pontiac mean?” She was completely stumped. I couldn’t blame her, because that was the point of my question: It doesn’t mean anything. We have absolutely no idea what a Pontiac is supposed to be or why we should buy it.

You know what a Porsche is (true sports car); you know what a Cadillac is (American luxury); you know what a Toyota is (quality); you even know what a Hummer is (an off-road monstrosity).

But you have no idea what a Pontiac is.

Some of you guys (mostly guys) know what a Pontiac USED to be: a muscle car. Even now, the 1967 GTO sets male hearts a-flutter.

How did Pontiac go from something that gorgeous and appealing to something like this?

Because it wasn’t satisfied with its niche, so rather than grow the niche patiently, aggressively over the years, it tried to be more, do more and please a wider and wider group of people. (By the way, Pontiac’s current slogan, “Pontiac is CAR” is certainly baffling, but it also makes a kind of sense: All we know about a Pontiac is that it is a car. Thanks, fellas.)

Now how does this apply to your live entertainment organization?

Well, what do you “mean”? Cirque du Soleil means spectacular modern circus. Johnny Steele means smart political comedy. Second City means the best improv comedy. Charles Phoenix means hilarious slideshows lovingly showing Americana.

In other words, you don’t have to be big to mean something, but meaning something sure makes it easier to get big!

And if you’re big and no longer mean something, you might find it’s a quicker trip to being small again than you ever thought possible.

Just ask Pontiac. [Oh wait, you can’t.]

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