– Intro to Mark Horvath’s Linkedin page[/box]
In April 2011, truck-maker GMC made quite a cause marketing splash when they surprised Horvath with use of a vehicle for a year to tour Canada and the US.
GMC Communications Manager (and chief program initiator) Connie Burke and Mark Horvath spoke about this partnership at SOBCon Northwest in September (SOBCon conferences focus on strategies and tactics for merging your online and offline worlds into a successful business). I caught up with Connie afterward to ask a few questions about what it took to put this program together.
A Risky Departure from Traditional Programs
For Connie, selling this cause marketing effort to GMC leadership apparently wasn’t easy but timing was on her side.
“GM was going through a process of reinventing itself in an attempt to be more transparent while still engaging consumers, especially those that had written us off or maybe hadn’t engaged with us in some time. GM is a big corporation that has done everything by traditional means for a long time. A partnership with a social-media-focused homeless advocate like Mark was an incredibly risky proposition and a big departure from the way we were accustomed to operating. I was clear with our leadership that we wouldn’t be able to mandate logo placement or product mentions and that we’d have to take Mark’s lead on our brand’s visibility. But I firmly believed that the biggest risk would pay the biggest reward and that this was something we needed to do.”
Sharing Mark’s video interviews with homeless people with senior leadership was the clincher. “The human element in these videos is just so compelling that anyone who sees them understands the integrity with which they’re made. Mark’s work made my job easy.”
The partnership was far from a blind leap of faith on Connie’s part. She had met Mark Horvath over a year earlier and had been watching his efforts, his integrity and his results closely. She consulted SOBCon co-founder Liz Strauss about the most effective way for her large corporate brand to engage online and together, the two of them crafted GM’s sponsorship presence for SOBCon, centering around Mark and the car.
Although GMC’s gift and Mark’s subsequent tour have resulted in impressive media impressions, Connie notes, “It’s not just about the blog posts or traditional media impressions we receive. It’s the whole tone of the conversation that’s important to us. This message really resonates with people because we’re able to support Mark in his genuine, grass-roots effort. He’s making a real difference. After Mark’s visit, the Canadian Government has decided to enact legislation in support of the homeless population there. That’s significant.”
Pressed further about the business benefits to GM, Connie shares, “I can point to specific vehicle sales I’ve made as a result of this partnership. I’m not in a traditional sales role but (I play in the “consideration” arena) but every single sale is significant. Our grassroots program has proven to change entrenched opinions to more positive associations with both our products and brands. For me, it’s more about forming relationships and then keeping people in the family and connected with what’s happening at GM.”
Surprises Along the Way
There have been a few surprises along Mark’s tour, both good and bad, from Connie’s perspective.
On the negative side: “Mark’s gotten a lot of visibility, which is great. But with that visibility sometimes comes jealousy and criticism from people who are involved in the cause, but not getting the same public attention that Mark has earned. Recently, there have been several detractors who have been very vocal on social media and other channels. It’s unfortunate, but at the same time it says he must be doing something right.”
On the positive: “Mark pulled into a GM dealer last week and the dealer bent over backwards to make him feel welcome as they serviced the vehicle. As he was leaving, the dealer presented a completely unsolicited $1,000 check to the local homeless organization on his behalf. That was truly amazing. I had no idea they had planned to do that.”
It’s Not About the Car
This statement from Mark Horvath sums up this amazing cause partnership from genesis to execution, “It’s not about the car. It’s about the relationship.” Connie Burke concurs, “I heartily agree. Relationships are the fuel in the tank.”
What do you think about GMC’s efforts with Mark Horvath? What’s been your experience selling “risky” cause campaigns?
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