Unlikely Inspiration: Hyundai Reinvents Its Products, Marketing (With Great Success)

The Genesis, 2009 Car of the Year

The Genesis, 2009 Car of the Year

In recent Wall Street Journal reports, things are looking up for one auto company.  But you guessed it: not an American one.

Beating last year’s worldwide decline, Hyundai’s sales rose five percent, and last week, reported that Q3 profits tripled.

What Hyundai is doing right is “a sustained corporate effort at reinvention,” notes columnist Paul Ingrassia.  Among the steps and wins he details:

– New QC initiative

– 10 year, 10,000 mile warranty to allay quality concerns

– Second-place tie with Honda in 2004 J.D. Powers Initial Quality Survey

– Genesis, its first luxury vehicle, voted 2009 Car of the Year, Detroit Auto Show

– Marketing Assurance Program allowing buyers to return their car if they lose their job with a year of purchase.  This initiative, part of its Hyundai Momentum campaign, led to Hyundai Motor America’s VP of Marketing being named Brandweek’s 2009 Grand Marketer of the Year.

Ingrassia points to several lessons for GM and Chrysler, recommending that both “make their marketing more relevant,” given global competition. (GM has recently done so with its 60-day money-back guarantee.)

A second Journal piece, Advertiser Banks on Blank Look, again features Hyundai, this time with a few bold advertising decisions:

– Buying all of the ad space in a newly-built subway station, and at three adjacent to it, plus in most of the trains, near their Seoul headquarters.

– Leaving most of that ad space blank, except for a small service icon and company logo; in other areas, “giant white panels have a pink eraser in the lower right corner and a short explanation: ‘The world is flooded with too many ads … For a short while we wanted to leave it empty for you.’”

The ads are the culmination of a 2004 identity campaign for Hyundai Capital, its consumer loan arm. Started by the company’s then-new CEO in 2003, the identity campaign helped the company re-position and grow its share from two to its current 16 percent.

This success “gave Hyundai the confidence to try its largely-blank ads,” according to Hyundai Capital’s CMO.

Inspirational?  Yes, and proof that a sustained internal effort to “reinvent” itself in response to market perceptions, plus the fortitude to produce thoughtful, relevant and remarkable (read very different) marketing, not only gets noticed, but builds the brand and impacts sales – even in tough times.