Genesis: The birth of a brand
Genesis will peddle the G90, above, and G80 sedans before an infusion of all-new product.
Meet the first new luxury marque of the 21st century.
The last time a major automaker launched a luxury brand in the U.S. was more than 25 years ago, when Infiniti and Lexus joined the U.S. market as the luxury arms of Nissan and Toyota. A few years earlier, it was Honda’s Acura brand that broke ground here, accompanied by the short-lived Sterling brand from the U.K.
Now, it’s Genesis’ turn. For the next 18 months, the Korean upstart will peddle its G80 and G90 sedans, both descendants of products that once lived under the Hyundai brand umbrella. Then come the first real standard bearers of the brand, all-new and purportedly higher-volume models: the G70 and a pair of crossovers.
In the meantime, there’s the significant challenge of forging a brand image from scratch and conveying it to consumers in a way that not only establishes Genesis’ luxury credentials, but sets it apart from the rest of a crowded luxury field.
The challenge is especially acute for a spinoff of Hyundai, which, despite its huge strides, hasn’t fully shed the stigma of the sub-$5,000 cars it sold when it first arrived on U.S. shores — and whose luxury offerings will sit in the same stores as value-priced Accents and Elantras.
“Of course there’s going to be some kind of legacy in the market,” Kate Fabian, Genesis’ marketing manager, told Automotive News at a G90 launch event this summer. “But the best way to overcome it is hit it head-on and go to market as Genesis the brand and say, ‘This is what we’re about.’ … And try to hit the reset button, because the experience that we offer our customers is going to be very different to that of Hyundai.”
There’s no clear template for success. Lexus, Infiniti and Acura all struggled at times to connect with customers while disconnecting from their parent brands or companies — same for Lincoln and Cadillac as they plot their current reinventions.
“I think you really need to be original, and you need to have your own uniqueness,” Jon Ikeda, Acura’s general manager, told Automotive News last month at Monterey Car Week in California. “So doing a lot of things that others do, on steroids, doesn’t establish you. There’s a lot of guys who have been out there for 100 some years, and they’re very good at what they do.”
For Genesis, the differentiator Fabian and her team have settled on is respect, a term that’s spotlighted in a TV ad that already has hit the airwaves and invoked to describe a package of conveniences that Genesis will offer, including test drives at home and valet pickup and drop-off of cars for service.
The black-and-white spot features shots of the G90 driving intercut with images of people enjoying their free time, as varied voices describe some of the things Genesis respects: tradition, ideals, design, time.
“A lot of luxury brands these days put a lot of focus around the product and around the performance, and absolutely that’s important,” Fabian said. “But for us, the experience we provide our customers and how we ensure that we continue a relationship is just as important.”
Genesis has one big advantage as it seeks to build awareness: a four-year sponsorship deal with the National Football League — separate from Hyundai’s — which designates Genesis as the league’s official luxury brand and provides a large, live-TV audience for game broadcasts at least three days a week.
Grunting linemen might not sound well-matched with buyers of posh cars. But the NFL actually skews “very high” with luxury intenders, Fabian said, and was the perfect way to get awareness out to a lot of people at once.
Genesis also is targeting the traditional monied buyer as the title sponsor of the 2017 Genesis Open, the PGA Tour stop in Los Angeles that for the past nine years has been the Northern Trust Open.
Genesis knows it ultimately will need to get beyond the brand messaging to target people looking to buy a car soon. After all, the cars are on their way to showrooms.
So Genesis has turned to addressable TV — a tactic that pairs data from satellite TV providers such as DISH or DirecTV with data from third-party sources culled from current car shoppers.
Automakers use this tool to run an ad for a vehicle in a specific household predicted to be shopping in that segment. Their neighbors see something different.
So suppose all that marketing goes perfectly well. What happens when Genesis catches a luxury consumer’s attention, and that person heads to a dealership, only to arrive at a lot teeming with Accents with cloth seats?
“The hardest thing for a marketing person to do is to get someone shopping for a car to go to a dealer,” said Eric Lyman, vice president of industry insights at TrueCar.com. “Once you’ve accomplished your goal and they’re in the store, does it all fall apart when it’s combined with the Hyundai showroom?”
While Genesis will have a dedicated “showroom within a showroom,” the brand doesn’t expect to have stand-alone U.S. stores for about five years; even then, they’ll be concentrated in larger luxury markets.
Thus, Genesis and its marketing efforts will be well-served by one thing: patience.
“This is not going to be a quick exercise and not going to be a cheap endeavor,” said Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “It’s important to go into it with your eyes open.”