Several years ago, I wrote a blog post (Al2rego.com) three years ago recognizing the role that design played in Hyundai's rise to legitimacy. If you will recall, Hyundai's inauspicious entry into the competitive automotive market did not set the Korean manufacturer on a fast-track trajectory from the start. It's products were not designed to succeed in a value-generating manner. But, the firm persisted:
"Very rarely does a company get a second chance at making a good impression with the American public, so when you have the opportunity, you have to run with it. It helps if you can run to the bank, because second chances are always measured in cubic dollars/yen/yuan/won/euros…
In this case Hyundai had to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on engineering and quality control. The cars had to run well and last longer; they accomplished that. Then they brought in the Europeans.
If you have been noticing that the new Hyundais are looking, well, very un-Hyundai-ish, you are right. It seems that Hyundai poached one of Audi’s most talented car designers, Raphael Bretcher and voila, you have a silk purse. The new Sonata in fact, would look right at home in Stuttgart or Osaka.
Would Hyundai be successful if their cars still looked like 70′s era Soviet-bloc taxis? Maybe, but now that they look like your neighbor’s Audi for about two-thirds of the Audi’s price, their success is all but assured.
Such is the power of great design. People want beautiful things that work well and make them feel good. Great designers translate these desires into obtainable goods, cars, computers, toothbrushes, etc.
While it is about cars, there is a powerful marketing message beneath the design (as is usually the case). This South Korean company dates back fifty years but its US marketing began in 1986. It established its beachhead in the US on affordability (#10 Best Product, Fortune magazine that year). It then developed its own technology, and invested in quality improvements, manufacturing and design. In 1998, it introduced a frame-breaking 10 year, 100,000 mile warranty to US buyers. No user manufacturer ever considered such a bold promise but soon followed."
This is remarkable marketing story. And now, with striking a deal with the NFL, after getting its feet with in sponsorship with its NCAA connection, Hyundai is poised to leverage the true power of the NFL fan base by activating at the grass roots dealer-consumer level.