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Here’s the thing. Hyundai did an amazing job in America with its long game of winning minds and market share. The low price point, 10-year warranty is the stuff of which Harvard Business School cases are made. I say long term, because that’s how you build a car brand – over time.  It’s a considered purchase, an expensive purchase. Hyundai did it the right way and consumer perceptions of quality and value were growing more and more positive.

Then came Genesis. The car designs were amazing. The ads, off-the-charts well-conceived. But the brand strategy was lacking. America wasn’t ready for a luxury brand from Hyundai. Just wasn’t. (And don’t go all focus group defensive on me.)     

When Peter Arnell did a branding assignment to make Samsung more a mainstream electronics brand 30+ years ago, it felt wrong. But it worked. The timing was right. The proofs were baked. Today Samsung rocks.

Genesis might have worked had it not been a Hyundai brand. Or if introduced 10 years down the road. But Alas, Poor Yorik, it was not.




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Pride Sells

One word that turns up rich consumer insights when brand planning is “pride.” Consumers know how to articulate pride.  Delving into pride helps planners get to brand truths. It may be one of the seven deadly sins but pride helps planners navigate the psyche and mine selling ideas.

When Hyundai began marketing cars in the US, it was not a car many people took pride in owning, but when the cars designs improved consumers could begin to take pride in ownership. Then Hyundai introduced its 10-year warranty and owners crowed like roosters, looking quite smart compared to other consumers. One can take pride in looking smart. 

Hyundai’s new Assurance program, which guarantees it will take back any new car it sells, at no cost, if the buyer loses his or her job, is another smart move. Add those smarts to the announcement that the newly launched Genesis was named North American Car of the Year at the Detroit Auto Show and you begin to see how momentum is built. Sin indeed.


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There were two interesting announcements today that point to trends in the marketing world and both originate in China. Tsingtao Beer profits and sales are way up, due to increased consumption of brew in China and Chinese car companies like Great Wall Motor and Cherry Automobile Co. are growing faster than expected — and not just because they are selling to a new, emerging class of Chinese with disposable income. It’s because other developing countries, such as those in Africa, are finding value in Chinese automobiles. A new car in Africa doesn’t have 10 airbags or new age catalytic converters (not that there’s anything wrong with them), so their prices are lower and they’re outselling US and European brands. China is growing, consuming and growing smart.

I was driving around Puerto Rico a couple of months ago and was amazed at the number of Suzuki cars on the road. They outnumbered other brands 4 to 1. Now Suzuki’s aren’t Chinese, but they are a value brand and though the Puerto Rican economy has been dinged lately, by and large it’s doing okay. Many of these Suzukis were new. Clearly, Puerto Ricans want value. And the leading local beer in Puerto Rico, by the way, is Medalla. Why does it lead the market? It tastes good and costs less.
As China goes on line (not online) with more and more low wage jobs pushing out mass-produced products of value, we need to carefully watch the lower end of our market. We have only scratched the surface of what’s to come from China and other foreign-based value brand marketers. If you want a case to study, check out the growth of the Hyundai automobile brand in the U.S.

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