I remember when Hyundai came to the United States automotive market as the first Korean automaker. Their first model was the 1986 Hyundai Excel. And it was a dog. The entry-level compact was very inexpensive, even for that class, and was still no bargain due to the glaring lack of quality.
As human beings, we tend to form first impressions very quickly. For example, it takes about seven seconds for us to make a judgment about someone we just met. The flip side of that is it takes a great deal more to change an opinion, once formed. So what can a brand do to change perceptions? It takes myriad factors, such as multiple factual data points, emotional rationale, social proof, repetition and time.
Today Hyundai enjoys a reputation as a maker of quality automobiles. The following is a look at how they got here in the context of consumer benefits.
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For many years the lineup of Hyundai vehicles was largely just functional. As such, the company needed to focus on improving the functional benefits of the product. Simply telling the market that the quality of the product was better was not enough. Hyundai had to prove it. The company’s solution was to offer the best warranty in the industry. Not only did the longer warranty change consumers’ perceptions, it also changed internal behavior. Employees felt the pressure to deliver improved quality that backed up the warranty. In fact, they had to, or Hyundai would lose too much money on warranty claims.
Hyundai entered the United States luxury automobile market with the XG and later introduced the Azera, Genesis and Equus models. Current models in Hyundai’s luxury lineup have higher aesthetic appeal than in the past and boast more standard features than other luxury automobiles. They’re also offered at lower price points. Why? Because Hyundai is not generally perceived as a luxury brand and the vehicles need additional appeal. With these vehicles the consumers’ self-expressive benefits (what the purchase says about the buyer) come into play in a different way than most luxury purchases. By getting more for the price, Hyundai luxury buyers can feel financially savvy and not status-seeking.
Hyundai’s efforts have addressed the factors that can change perceptions and it is now generally considered a reliable brand with sales exceeding expectations, even in the luxury category. All that said, time is probably the most important factor to consider in this example. Nearly 30 years following its introduction in the United States, Hyundai has undoubtedly spent more money changing perceptions than it would have cost to develop a product that created positive perceptions in the first place. The takeaway from this example is to not launch a product before it is ready. Negative perceptions in the mind of the target market create brand liabilities that take a lot of time and cost a lot of money to overcome.