Corporate Eye

Hyundai – A Lesson in Reinventing a Brand

hyundai_genesisTwenty years ago the Hyundai brand represented cheap, starter cars.  It was a brand that people poked fun at, and it was a brand that was not known for quality.  Today, the Hyundai brand still carries some of those old stigmas, but they’re more of a distant memory than anything else.  Today, the Hyundai brand doesn’t mean cheap.  It means affordable.  And it means a lot more, too.

While other automobile brands have struggled to maintain sales, Hyundai’s sales have actually grown.  And while other auto brands have reduced advertising and marketing spending in recent years, Hyundai has increased their own spending.  As a result, Hyundai’s market share has grown with no signs of slowing down.  In fact, consumers named Hyundai Marketer of the Year for 2009 in an Ad Age poll.  Clearly, the new brand image is being heard and believed.

Hyundai’s path to reinvent its brand didn’t happen overnight.  The first step came in 1998 when Hyundai became the first auto manufacturer to offer a 10-year, 100,000 mile warranty.  Next, car designs were revamped making them more competitive aesthetically with popular brands like Honda and Toyota.  New models like the Santa Fe, Tuscon, and higher-end Genesis were released, again, elevating the brand image.  Quality problems were addressed, and with the excellent warranty giving consumers peace-of-mind, new car sales grew.

Fast forward to 2009 when Hyundai responded to economic problems consumers faced with its assurance program that allowed customers to return the Hyundai vehicles they purchased that year if they lost their jobs.  Later that year, Hyundai introduced its Assurance Gas Lock program (when gasoline prices were soaring to record levels in the United States) rather than offering discounts and dealer incentives, which can negatively affect brand perception.  The Assurance Gas Lock program guaranteed $1.49 per gallon gasoline to consumers who purchased Hyundai vehicles during the summer months of 2009.   During a time when consumers were actively looking for brands they could trust, Hyundai was the first to step up to the plate with innovative programs (similar in nature to its pioneering warranty program that most auto manufacturers have since copied in some form).

Hyundai’s efforts to reinvent its brand have worked.  Not only is Hyundai’s market share at an all time high, but in 2009, 60% of consumers were reported to be aware of the brand and willing to buy it, which was up from just 40% two years earlier.  While U.S. car manufacturers are using bailout money, and other popular brands are battling quality problems, Hyundai seems to be doing all the right things to successfully reinvent its brand and continue to reap the rewards.

What do you think?  Has Hyundai successfully reinvented its brand or is there still more work to be done?

Image: Flickr


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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for and, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as,,, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.

I agree that they’ve been very competitive and intelligent with their marketing. Hopefully they can sustain those efforts and remain focused on what they’ve done/are doing right. Saturn started out much the same and I was a satisfied customer for many years, but like many companies that gained such success; Gateway, Dell, etc., they seem to forget how they succeeded and lose focus. Once a customer no longer feels “cared for” they are more willing to look elsewhere. Companies often forget that brand loyalty requires commitment to the customer, not just customer to the brand.

This article makes some solid points. I agree that Hyundai has done a great job of re-inventing its brand.

They took advantage of Toyota, Honda being much too conservative and safe with their designs. While GM, Chrysler and Ford basically ignored the small car segment. By winning with the Accent, new Elantra and New Sonata – Hyundai is putting their higher end Genesis and Equus in a solid position. It is a great turnaround story!

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