Friday, April 06, 2007

Hyundai Looking to Build More Confident Brand

Hyundai Looking To Build More Confident Brand

Hyundai's Genesis Concept, unveiled at the New York International Auto Show, is a dissertation in sheet metal about where the Seoul, Korea, company sees itself in the North American market.

The car, a production version of which will see the inside of dealer showrooms next year, is a sleek sedan with design suggestive of BMW and Audi. If the car demonstrates how much the Fountain Valley, Calif.-based Hyundai Motor America wants a piece of the near-premium car market, Hyundai marketers say a larger goal is more consideration among consumers and a more confident brand image.

The company's new VP marketing, Joel Ewanick, who had been group director of brand planning at Hyundai's erstwhile agency, Richards Group, says the company is counting on the new agency--to be announced next week--to develop a brand essence that transcends the 10-year/100,000-mile Hyundai Advantage warranty for which the company may still be most famous.

He says the company must increase consideration, while building awareness of the breadth of Hyundai's offerings, which includes three SUVs, four sedans, a minivan and a sports coupe.

"At the end of the day, we are looking for an agency that can bring an idea," says Ewanick. "We no longer think we need to make model advertising the sole message."

He says Hyundai branding needs to close a "perception gap" between the truth about Hyundai vehicles and what consumers think they know about a brand that has relied on price and an industry-leading warranty to battled--mostly with success--collective memories of its shaky past.

"It's one thing for people to be aware of you and another to put you on the list; that's what we are working for," he says. "We have had success, but we need to accelerate the momentum."

Indeed, after several years of brisk growth in U.S. sales and market share, Hyundai's 2006 sales were flat, though the company posted record sales for the month just passed, with 41,984 vehicles delivered--a 22% increase versus February, and a 57% improvement versus March 2006.

Steve Wilhite, who became Hyundai Motor America's COO last August, says the company's brand efforts need to create a mosaic out of discrete brand truths. "Each piece is wonderful by itself, but in the hands of a mosaic artist, you step back and get a much richer picture of what's going on."

Pieces he'd like to include in the big picture are safety technology--"The fact that electronic stability control is standard in 70% of our vehicles"; technological innovation, value and financial security via its 10-year warranty. "We are looking for an agency that knows how to tell those stories in the context of Hyundai; we need to be much more brand-centric than model-centric," he says.

"If we walk through [the Javitz Center], very few people would be able to name all nine of our products. If I went to the prototypical soccer mom and asked her to tell me the name of our minivan, I'd guess one or two percent would know it. Electronic stability control is the single most important new safety technology since the deployment of seat belts. We haven't told that story."

He added that the company hasn't talked about its gains in active and passive safety or its production quality. "It's a function of a lack of confidence. And it's gotta change."

by Karl Greenberg, Friday, Apr 6, 2007 5:00 AM ET

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