5 Questions with Kia CMO, Choon-Kwan Suh

Jihun Moon, Interbrand Chief Executive Officer, South Korea interviews Choon-Kwan Suh, Chief Marketing Officer, Kia. Mr. Suh talks about the future of mobility, Kia’s long-term growth strategy, and how it is utilizing its brand to engage customers and help drive this growth.

One of the hottest topics surrounding the Kia brand today is the launch of the Stinger. The new concept car may not be a volume driver, but what is the role that the 2018 Kia Stinger will play in driving the Kia brand to the next level?

Indeed, the Stinger is not a volume driver, nor do we want it to play that role. The Kia brand is built upon three core values: Vibrant, Distinctive, and Reliable. The Stinger is the embodiment of Kia’s vibrant and exciting image. For many years, Korean consumers wanted a car just like the Stinger from local manufacturers such as Hyundai and Kia, and we have finally been able to meet their desires. As a testimony, sales figures are surging past our initial forecasts. Next year, we plan to introduce the Stinger to the US market, and we expect it to drive sales as well as elevate Kia’s image to the next level.

Kia has grown tremendously over the past 10 years, and a core part of that has been successful design. Kia has invested heavily in brand-building—represented by the recruitment of designer Peter Schreyer. If design has played the key role in Kia’s growth over the past 10 years, what is the growth engine for Kia in the years to come?

Design has been at the heart of Kia’s growth strategy and will continue to be a competitive edge for Kia, as it plays a critical role in purchase decisions in automotive. As we prepare ourselves for long-term growth, we are paying attention to autonomous driving, connected cars, electric vehicles, and more. These are the fundamentals upon which the future of mobility lies. Another core element we believe is crucial to continued success is the constant influx of talent. Over the past few years, we have managed to recruit employees with great potential both in Korea and in our overseas operations. These talented individuals, combined with Kia’s vision for growth, will continue to drive the brand forward.

Autonomous driving, connected cars, and electric vehicles are an industry-wide agenda, and competitors will also invest heavily to gain competency. What is Kia’s strategy in terms of customer experience to differentiate itself from the competition?

The importance of customer experience cannot be emphasized enough. This is why many automotive manufacturers are already investing in providing a unique customer experience. Kia wants to take this to the next level. This is why we recently opened the BEAT-360 brand experience store.

The vision behind BEAT-360 is to make our customers’ hearts beat with anticipation, in all 360 degrees of the experience. It is designed around Kia’s brand identity: “A different beat.” The store features an immersive media zone where visitors can catch a glimpse of Kia’s vision for the future of mobility, a world-first digital concierge experience in which Kia uses “mediated reality” to explain the specifications of each vehicle, a music lounge which features the highest quality sound for music enthusiasts, and even a premium tea flagship store called the Smith tea café. Once our customers visit BEAT-360, they will immediately see how Kia is different from other brands.

What is the meaning of BEAT-360?

Kia’s brand identity is “a different beat” and BEAT-360 is a manifestation of our brand slogan “The Power to Surprise.” It was designed to make each customer’s heart beat with anticipation—not only when they ride in our vehicles, but through all aspects of their lives.

What do you think is most important in order for Kia to become a Best Global Brand leader like Apple, Google, IBM, etc.?

There are many factors at play when we talk about the success of a brand. Some of these change over time due to trends. But one factor that will not change, and that we focus all our attention on, is our customers. Based on the understanding of our customer needs and wants, we aim to provide the right products and service at the right time.

As such, we plan to offer a mobility service in the domestic market and expand the service to other markets. Through this service, we expect to meet customers’ mobility needs as well as increase opportunities for them to experience our products and services. Another example of our growth strategy is our continuous focus on enhancing our product lineup. The Kia Stonic subcompact SUV shows our responsiveness to the growing needs of the B-SUV market. Also, the Stinger is a clear reflection of our true identity, rooted in dynamic performance.

Another area we keep close to our hearts is alternative fuel/powertrains. As there are more concerns about the environment and sustainability, we plan to widen customers’ choice in electrified powertrains (HEV, EV, PHEV). The Niro is a great start to such initiatives and we plan to offer a total of 14 models by 2020. Kia’s future alternative models will not only be highly efficient, but also reflect customers’ needs and lifestyles.

We are planning another quantum leap for the Kia brand as we look towards the future. It is critical for our global Kia family to be fully aligned on the vision, in terms of the direction we are moving and the required dedication to reach the goal.

We plan to announce our ambitious vision for future mobility at 2018 CES, and it will be something very special that everyone should anticipate.