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Hyundai marketing chief sees positive signs ahead

Shape shifter: Kevin Goult has carved out a more serious, premium path for Hyundai and will look to better leverage its eco models such as Kona Electric as buyers emerge from lockdown in cleaner air.

Kevin Goult details HMCA’s marketing strategy during coronavirus crisis – and beyond

12 May 2020

HYUNDAI Motor Company Australia (HMCA) has seen positive rates of buyer enquiry in the past couple of weeks and its newly appointed marketing director Kevin Goult is optimistic that the current downturn caused by the coronavirus crisis will begin to ease as he pushes ahead with a bold strategy to change the way the Korean brand interacts with consumers.


In an interview with GoAuto, Mr Goult detailed the comprehensive plans he has formulated since joining the company in February, soon after a wide-ranging management restructure was introduced.


In the short term, this has included specially targeted campaigns around the COVID-19 pandemic, a realignment of its advertising channels – with no cuts to the budget – and now a switch to the end-of-financial-year sales and marketing frenzy to capitalise on what Mr Goult sees as early indications that Australian buyers are beginning to return to the market after going into hibernation last month, pushing the brand’s sales down a whopping 65.3 per cent.


Further ahead, the former Audi and Jaguar Land Rover marketing chief is now planning to take the image and perception of the brand to a more premium position and better leverage its leadership in bringing electrified vehicles to the mainstream market via the Kona Electric, Ioniq range and Nexo fuel-cell electric vehicle, particularly as the COVID-19 lockdown forces cleaner air into the conversation.


He has also fast-tracked the company’s move towards a full-scale e-commerce platform which includes online vehicle buying and other capabilities (see separate story).


“We have seen a lift in enquiry,” he said. “We have seen a steady lift in enquiry.


“It’s the serious buyers who are coming into showrooms. I think we’re still going to have that selection of clients coming in that want a more ‘aggressive’ deal – and we’re seeing a very strong conversion rate with these buyers, the ‘true buyer’ if you like, who is coming into the market.


“So we are seeing that lift and our communication message for end of financial year is we’re very much focused on product, and we’re very much focused on product detail – still aware that we are in lockdown, so it’s a case of bringing that technology and showing the features to the consumer.


“The industry, yes, it’s most definitely going to suffer. But I also believe that the consumer intent to purchase is still there, and there is data telling us that the intent to purchase is still quite high.


“There’s obviously the nervousness through the pandemic, but the intent to purchase at the end of the pandemic is still there, and what I’d like us to do as a brand is just keep ourselves on, keep ourselves in to consistent mindset of consideration.”


Mr Goult said it was too early to accurately predict just how much of a hit the pandemic would have on Hyundai’s annual sales, but that the back half of the year should bring positive results.  


“We’re aware there will be an effect on the number,” he said. “Just how big that is right now, well of course we’ve got ambition that helps us try to recover some of that volume in the second half of the year.


“March and April were two very difficult months, because that was right in the thick of lockdown, but we haven’t been winding back our budgets from a marketing perspective because most definitely it’s about keeping that ambition for growth, to keep coming back, we want to try and come back as a consistent brand – and a sustainable brand.”


Mr Goult said that although Hyundai has not cut back its marketing spend during the pandemic, it has changed media channels with more of an emphasis on digital (including radio) and a “detuning” of outdoor advertising given fewer cars are on the road.


He said the message is being kept “very sympathetic” and that specially targeted campaigns, such as the 50 per cent service discount for healthcare workers, were still running.


This ‘Give them a lift’ campaign was designed to not only show the brand’s support for people fighting the virus on the front lines, but to communicate to everyone that its dealerships were still open.


“It is a global pandemic so of course it’s taken very seriously, but what I have got installed, and what I really want us to have as our brand brief, is we are a positive brand. We don’t know when the end is (to the crisis), so we want to be positive throughout that journey,” he said.


“What we’ve been able to do is be more targeted, we’ve been more direct with our communication and we’ve also been very considered in terms of the message that we’re putting across to make sure it’s fitting for today’s environment.”


Mr Goult said that in overall terms, and moving forward, he wants to position that brand as a more premium offering while still reflecting the fact that it offers “high-value product”.


“Hyundai is, by design, quite a playful brand, and I want to maintain that, but what I want to do is just move that up a little bit more in terms of that premium conversation,” he said.


Asked to elaborate on what this premium shift means and will look like, Mr Goult said: “The way we look at it is how we represent the brand and our product, and it will be just a little bit more grown up.


“We’ll be taking ourselves seriously, but not too seriously; we’ll still have that element of playfulness but it’s just lifting it up a little bit.


“We’ll still be accessible to everybody. We don’t want to be moving ourselves away from our younger demographic – that’s where the playfulness stays – but what we do need to do is move ourselves up in that consideration set, to just lift the brand to a more premium tone.”


This means avoiding messages of heavy discounts, or items for free; “we want to be more about: this is the technology, this is the capability, this is the craftsmanship and why we do what we do,” he said.


“I’ve come from some very premium brands with some great technology. We can equal some of that, and I think … it feels a bit like it’s misrepresented, and what I want to do is put it into the space where people understand that Hyundai is no longer this value-discount brand, it’s this premium brand or a brand that’s moving into that premium territory, and it will give some of these other premiums a good run for their money.


“So I think we need to move it upwards. We’re never going to forget the fact that we’re a Korean brand, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of, but I think the way that we build our cars, the way we design our cars and engineer them, the materials that we use inside, most definitely moves us into that space where can talk a little more premium than we have in the past.”


Mr Goult said he will consider taking Hyundai along a similar path to Mazda, and that he wants the brand to be on the same consideration set as the Japanese brand when viewed in relation to entry models from German prestige marques such as Mercedes, BMW and Audi.


“But I don’t want us to be Mazda. I don’t want us to be a me-too brand. What I do want us to be is … a serious player in a very big market,” he said, emphasising the need to appeal to younger, tech-savvy buyers who have never seen or driven its earlier cheap-and-cheerful product.


“I think the mindset of what we do can be the fact that we’ve got some great products, we’re very confident with what we’ve got, our fit and finish is very good, and then really start to carve out what you get for your money in that respect and change the view where people might look at it and say the old Hyundai was definitely about value and it might not have been taken as seriously, whereas the brand of tomorrow, if you like, is that we’re serious contender in the market with high levels of tech, very, very well-designed cars and of course that (N division) performance arm reinforces that too.


“All of that is what I want to start to morph together … I just want us to carve a path for Hyundai that actually puts us to a place that starts to say it’s not a cheap brand, it’s a brand that has quality.”


As for where Hyundai sits in relation to fast-rising sister brand Kia from his point of view, Mr Goult said: “The way I look at it is, this is the sibling rivalry. And it’s so healthy, it’s such a good thing to have because we do spur each other on.


“Most definitely we’ll play in similar territories, but not exactly the same, but Kia have had a phenomenal new-product introduction and that’s obviously helped them with their growth and their movement as they’ve changed the brand. And we’re entering into that sort of phase (too).


“The evolution of their brand is ongoing, but it will probably start to slow down as they’ve got to the point where most of their new products are in there (the market). And we’re at the point in our lifecycle where our new product introductions will start to come through and most definitely create that momentum.


“I’m very aware of Kia. You always keep one eye on your siblings, don’t you, but I think the other thing is keeping your eye on the total environment.”


Going forward, Mr Goult said electrified vehicles and leveraging the N performance brand with volume-oriented N Line variants would be primary areas of focus for him.


“We’re all sitting in lockdown, there’s not as many cars on the road, the air is fresher and world feels like it’s a bit cleaner,” he said.


“I think what that’s doing is drawing more attention into this eco space, and that’s definitely, from Hyundai’s perspective, is something we can really take some serious ownership of because we’ve got the Hyundai Kona Electric – the first full-electric small SUV on the market – and then we’re got the Ioniq and the Nexo.


“And all three of those – EV, plug-in hybrid, and fuel cell – for me, that kind of territory is where it’s really going to start to blossom. I think as we here more stories about how clean the environment has become during this lockdown phase, I think that’s more of an opportunity for us to secure and promote our eco credentials.


“And then coming back to our premium credentials, not only do we have N performance, we have the N Line range that really is where we start to move ourselves into this range where it looks different, has a new style to it, and it’s more than a bodykit.”

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