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News Plus 7 Jun 2022 - 5 min read

Kia’s brand masterplan pays off: TV, sponsorships push carmaker to second spot for May, outselling stable mate Hyundai for 2022; 30,000 electric vehicle inquiries – marketing chief

By Brendan Coyne - Editor

Dean Norbiato: Laddering everything back to the brand is working, 30,000 reasons to be positive.

Kia's faith in brand building is being rewarded with year-on-year growth, eating up the road on bigger rivals. Last month the carmaker claimed second spot in the national sales league table behind Toyota. Marketing GM Dean Norbiato thinks there's more to come, if near triple digit increases across key brand metrics are any proxy for future sales. But global economic pressure is coming down the track, which means flexibility and sweating budgets, even if the big bosses back brand. The TV networks, he suggests, must be kept on their toes. But Norbiato says EVs will arrive in numbers next year, with 30,000 expressions of interest in Kia's EV6 alone waiting to be unlocked.

What you need to know:

  • Kia claims second spot for monthly unit sales for first time ever and is edging stablemate Hyundai for year to date.
  • GM Marketing Dean Norbiato says three-year big brand push, plus availability “and doing lots of little things right”, powering growth.
  • Drilling down on TV and BVOD data to refine where spend goes next.
  • Aligning head office and dealership search spend to avoid competing on key terms.
  • No plans to move away from “imperative” dealer network towards direct-to-consumer model.
  • EVs coming in numbers from next year; 30,000 expressions of interest in EV6 alone.
  • Chris Hemsworth and Mad Max Furiosa almost delayed new brand ad, launching today via State of Origin.

Ad Max: The Brand Warrior

Kia’s sustained brand push is moving through the gears. The carmaker claimed second spot for sales in May, again besting big brother Hyundai and trumping Mazda. Top marketer Dean Norbiato said massive increases in key brand metrics suggest there’s more growth to come, despite ongoing supply chain headwinds and fears of looming pressure on consumer spending.

Norbiato underlined that global supply chain pressures played a part in Kia’s May sales result. Relative to peers, especially Mazda, the carmaker appears to have navigated stock shortages successfully. Much of Australia’s auto sector suffered declines while Kia posted modest growth.

But the longer-term trajectory suggests Kia’s flip to brand building and emotive advertising over price and rationality is unmistakably eating up the road on bigger rivals.

Norbiato said the brand push could not deliver without product, price and placement, crediting senior management and dealers for enabling availability where some are struggling due to global pressures.

“Our senior leadership team is all about sustainable growth and I guess [sales success] is a manifestation of that. We’re going to continue to grow in line with our ability to service our customer base – and key to that is we are managing to get a lot of little things right.”

Softer brand metrics have risen near triple digits across a two year period for consideration, future consideration and desirablility – and future desirability is a great proxy for sales one-to-three years out.

Dean Norbiato, GM Marketing, Kia

CFO willing to go larger?

The focus on repositioning means that price no longer takes primacy across the four Ps. Norbiato pointed out that Kia “has not held a sales event since September 2019, instead prioritising brand – and since then the sales results speak for themselves. That is testament to the belief in brand of the senior leadership team”.

Softer brand metrics have also surged, “near triple digits across a two year period for consideration, future consideration and desirablility", per Norbiato. That bodes well, he reckons: "Future desirability is a great proxy for sales one-to-three years out.”

Does that mean the big bosses are willing to hand over more marketing budget for the financial year ahead?

“We have full support to continue the path we are on. Financially, we need to justify spend. So far, we have been able to do that – we’ve just had tens of thousands of people seeing our brand at the coalface at Vivid Sydney, off the back of the Australian Open in Melbourne," said Norbiato. "Any marketer would always take more budget to do more great things. At the moment we are in a good spot. Fingers crossed, the budget won't decrease,” but given the global headwinds, “you never know”.

Either way, Kia has two years worth of learning, “a more granular understanding of what works, and what doesn’t”, to refine its approach, analysing key channels, “TV and BVOD in particular”, to drill down on best times of day or where the ad appears within a break and mapping back to web traffic spikes.

That data means Kia can continue to justify TV spend. “I’m still a big believer in TV and we will lean into that,” said Norbiato, with a new Car of the Year campaign launching today via State of Origin heroing Kia’s EV6 and Sportage.

For the EV6, pre-launch to launch we had 30,000 expressions of interest on that one model alone – and we are utilising that halo accordingly. It’s the tip of the innovation pipeline of EVs coming over the next 6-24 months. Next year will be a very exciting place to be – and we are laddering everything back to the master brand.

Dean Norbiato, GM Marketing, Kia

Dealers drive growth

At the bottom of the funnel, Kia has been working through its search marketing approach, making sure that dealers and head office are not wasting budget by bidding against each other for key words.

While some carmakers are working towards D2C models and distancing themselves from dealerships in a bid for Tesla-type margins, Norbiato said Kia has the opposite view.

“The dealer network is imperative to our model. We have a really strong relationship with them and we need that strong support. We’re going around the country at the moment engaging with all of them,” said Norbiato. “The dealers have tremendous insights. They are critical to success, because the head can do one thing, but if the arms and legs aren’t delivering, you cannot succeed.”

EVs: Models shipping, energy play ahead?

Similarly, Kia has no plans to carve out electric models, as other automakers are attempting, some in parallel with parent marques.

“We are very much haloing the master brand – the Kia badge as opposed to splintering off an EV brand – because our biggest challenge has been perceived versus actual quality.”

It’s early days, with few units yet to reach these shores, but the auguries appear positive.

“The demand is definitely there. For the EV6, pre-launch to launch we had 30,000 expressions of interest on that one model alone – and we are utilising that halo accordingly,” said Norbiato. “It’s the tip of the innovation pipeline of EVs coming over the next 6-24 months. Next year will be a very exciting place to be – and we are laddering everything back to the master brand.”

Does that mean Australians can definitely get their hands on EVs in numbers from next year?

“From here on in, it is only going to improve, with increasing supply on existing models as well as the new models we are intent on ensuring reach our shores. We will have the greatest ever spread of EVs.”

Does Kia have plans, to enter the energy services market, as are the likes of Honda and Volkswagen in Europe – given the huge power infrastructure required to ensure EVs can successfully challenge combustion engines?

“That is a question for global. But we have aspirations to be a mobility company that stretches far further than autos for passengers,” said Norbiato.

If Covid taught us anything, it was the need to be agile with media spend. You need really good partners pulling for you and not the platforms and the networks, not waiting for discounts to arrive. You need to be fluid to keep the channels on their toes to ensure best value and react to the unexpected. We will undoubtedly see that requirement.

Dean Norbiato, GM Marketing, Kia

Media flexibility required

While the Australian economy has traditionally weathered headwinds better than most, the next 12 months could be turbulent. Norbiato suggested brands and marketing partners, particularly media agencies, must harness agility honed over the last couple of years.

“You need really good partners pulling for you and not necessarily the platforms and the [TV] networks,” with agencies taking a proactive approach, “not waiting for discounts to arrive”, he said.

“You need to be active and fluid to keep the channels on their toes to ensure best value. Not necessarily the cheapest, but best value, and react to the unexpected … to get more people into the dealerships,” Norbiato continued.

“We will undoubtedly see that requirement. If Covid taught us anything, it was the need to be agile with media spend. We can receive new models – an extra thousand Sorentos that we had not planned for in the short-to-medium term – so we have to be strategically reactive.

Norbiato said he sees little improvements in global supply chains in the near term. “We will need strong partners, and strong relationships with key channels, no doubt.”

Channeling Mad Max, cursing Chris Hemsworth

The new Kia brand campaign has more than a whiff of Mad Max 2 about it. Shot near Broken Hill, as was the 1980 classic and the upcoming Furiosa, Norbiato said the production experience underlined the need for a plan B across the supply chain.

“We got knocked off two locations because of Chris Hemsworth shooting Mad Max. So that just goes to show the need to be agile and nimble – and that extends to creative, not just media.”

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