How Kia Developed Their Brand Identity


There always seemed to be a problem when it came to buying, leasing or renting a Kia. Their brand was considered a bit lacking when put side to side with the likes of Ford, Volkswagen and so on.

It wasn’t that Kia was bad, far from it in fact, Kia produced quality vehicles at low prices – but they lacked that solid background of heritage and history that so many others in their market had achieved many moons ago. Today (indeed in the last ten years), we consumers have become increasingly high in expectations. Improvements in media, communication, transport and so on have meant that we are all connected through a fusion of digital conversations, adverts and platforms – we have a worldwide market place to browse.

Brands wishing to climb this Everest are facing real challenges, they have to enter a marketplace in a different way, adapting their brand to fit that geographical region – to slot seamlessly into its culture and understand what these people look for for their money. Kia Motors Corporation is a South Korean brand, with 12 manufacturing and assembly points and subsidiaries in 165 countries around the globe.

The UK houses over 166 dealerships, which is impressive for such a new entrant onto our shores. Kia Motors Europe where charged with the sales and marketing to the European market, and they started fairly well in their quest for success. Kia began exporting just one vehicle, the Kia Pride, to the UK in 1991 – and it proved to be popular with a sales figure of 1,800 in their first year, doubling to 5,000 in 1993.

A great start for the brand, and when things go well – it’s only natural to increase your product choice and give the buyers a bit more to pick from the flock. From 1993 to 1999, Kia released a series of vehicles; Kia Rio, Mentor, Shuma, Cerato, Sportage, Sorento and a few others came rolling onto our roads. Successful sales were expected this is where things started to turn sour for the group. Sales figures in 1999 for Kia were bad, very bad.

Despite a growing range, sales for 1998 came in a not-so grand total of around 3,000 sales in the entire range – the worst in any full year on the British Market. Serious doubt about whether Kia would survive the British market hung over the KME with an impending doom. Something needed to be done. Company Directors, Marketing guru’s and local dealerships banded together to attempt to deduce the problem and ultimately resolve their branding issue. Kia was known for being ‘Cheap and Cheerful’ – what’s wrong with that? everything in this day and age. The year 2000 saw a swing in markets and marketing as a whole, people expected low prices for quality products – there was no ‘you get what you pay for’ attitude anymore, especially within the vehicle market.

You can accredit this pendulum motion towards the growing use of social networks and worldwide retail outlets, we could see crystal clear that other markets in places like China, India and America where paying less than us for the same product – the UK wanted a slice of the cake. Kia recognised this and opened the curtains to the Kia Credos, a four-door saloon similar to the popular Ford Mondeo/Vauxhall Astra, but with more specification and, most importantly, a lower price tag. It was very popular, and sales rose whilst Mondeo and Astra’s figures fell – they had understood the market, top quality, low prices.

With this in mind, they once again expanded their range in the year 2000, adopting the ethos of the Credos and sales figures quickly doubled. Popularity with British Buyers was growing, and at a incredibly quick pace – by 2009 Kia was announced as a popular brand in Britain, with sales breaking the 50,000 barrier for the first time and a market share of 2%.

Kia’s marketing campaigns were incredibly successful and they utilised a multitude of cross-channel techniques to ensure this. They created their USP of the ‘7 Year Warranty’ – something practically unheard of in the vehicle market. They appointed new vehicle architects from Audi to reshape their models, to give their vehicles that modern and new vibe which was lacking in their previous range – just look at the Kia Sportage in 2006 when compared to the 2011 model, a vast change. With Kia going strong, many brands are failing – just look at the once iconic MG Motors – now struggling to sell any vehicles at all, despite a re-launch and a new model into the UK markets. Reasons for this are almost the opposite of what Kia faced, MG Motors new MG6 is a good-looking practical vehicle, but with a price tag of nearly 19,000 pounds – it’s got to compete with the cheaper saloons which have an overall better performance, MG need to take a leaf from Kia’s book. Kia’s marketing team also came up with a very successful slogan to go along with their new found success, the ‘Park the Cliches’ campaign resonates their forward motion – we are all indeed parking previous assumptions we had from Kia, they’ve done global marketing right – and it’s working.

Watch your space in the automotive world, 2013 will bring new tricks and treats as technology goes further, electric vehicles become a real possibility and the trend of ‘making things as small as possible’ is becoming scarily important – it certainly will be an exciting year.