How a Customer Community Built the Genesis Brand for Hyundai
Humans crave connection. We bond around causes, ideas, events, and the most random things imaginable.
Take a look around, and you can find a group for just about anything and everything, from baking enthusiasts to nature gurus to wine connoisseurs. There are groups for working moms, working dads, and everything in between.
When building a brand in the business world, the customers we serve (or want to serve) should be one of the major considerations as we develop our image in the world.
Will the baking enthusiast like our product?
Is that who we are targeting?
Is it backyard chicken keepers?
Is it the blue-collar worker or the C Suite Exec?
Our brand has to speak to someone specific, or it will speak to no one.
So, what happens when a group spontaneously develops around a brand? What happens when they take an unexpected interest in a niche, sub-brand of your organization and bring it to the forefront of the market?
This is exactly what happened when a community of people took such an interest in two particular vehicles in Hyundai’s total lineup that they began swapping out the Hyundai emblem with the Genesis emblem.
This unexpected community unfolded at a rapid pace and took the market by surprise.
And today, Genesis has become a leader in the luxury car market. All thanks to this niche group of superfans.
Let’s take a look at what happened.
Genesis Enters the Market in a Bold Way
In 1986, Hyundai entered the U.S. Market with the Hyundai Excel. It was marketed as an inexpensive but good car. At first, they were considered a joke and had to work hard to become a well-known and well-liked company in the car industry.
In 2008, Hyundai introduced the Hyundai Genesis sedan. They compared it to Mercedes and Lexus and marketed it as a “premium sports sedan.” A far cry from the Excel of the ‘80s, this model was a very bold move for Hyundai.
This stunning video compares the Genesis launch to Toyota’s initial Lexus launch. It was a risky and bold move by Toyota at the time. And clearly, it paid off.
Back then, I worked at a Hyundai dealership for a few years, doing titles, reception, and helping to sell on the weekends.
I remember when we got the first Genesis into the dealership – I was nervous to even sit in the thing, let alone drive it. Everyone was floored by it. The only person who wasn’t impressed was Curtis, a salesman who drove a Jaguar XJ (and Curtis was never impressed by anything).
Following the initial launch of the Genesis, Hyundai released a sportier version called the Genesis Coupe.
I started to notice something interesting as these cars came in for oil changes and services.
The Genesis sedans and coupes no longer sported the Hyundai badge. There was a new badge, and it said: Genesis.
The Influence of the Genesis Community
Early adopters of the Hyundai Genesis vehicles, already amenable to Hyundai, felt that these cars were far beyond what Hyundai traditionally offered, which prompted them to seek a different identity.
In a grassroots display of loyalty and aspiration, Genesis owners began re-badging their cars to distance themselves from the Hyundai brand.
They saw Genesis as a symbol of elevated status and believed it represented the future of Hyundai.
The act of replacing the Hyundai emblem became a tangible expression of their affinity for the car and their desire to be associated with a different “group.”
Online forums and message boards dedicated to Genesis enthusiasts quickly emerged as hubs for like-minded individuals to connect, share experiences, and discuss their love for Genesis vehicles.
These platforms fostered a sense of community and camaraderie among owners who were united by their shared passion for the cars.
As I stated earlier, we all crave connection. Humans will bond over anything that speaks to who they are as a person.
The customers’ connection to Genesis was developing into communities where customers expressed a deeper connection that was more than transactional as illustrated here:
“I used to mod my vehicles when I was in my 20’s, nothing too crazy but made it feel like it was my own. My last 2 vehicles I went away from changing and left stock, practicality and being more conscious of expenses as life went on. Now I’m back in a financial position to have fun with my vehicle, which is why I’m so excited to have bought a Genesis and joined this forum.”
This post is from a motor oil forum (yeah, those exist) in 2015 from user Overkill:
“I first started seeing this about two years ago in Toronto. It was a Hyundai Veloster, but the owner had replaced the Hyundai badges with something that in no way would indicate the car is a Hyundai. Recently, even around town here, I’m seeing the same thing on a number of them. Folks swapping out their Hyundai badges for aftermarket pieces that seem to cater to this phenomenon making the cars less likely to be identified as a Hyundai and rather beg the question “what car is that?”.”
Their dedication to the Genesis brand translates into action and profit. Customers are spending more money on aftermarket accessories and are more likely to repurchase and share their excitement about the brand with others.
As this community grows and gains momentum, its power goes beyond car ownership. The enthusiasm and advocacy of the Genesis owners would significantly shape the brand’s future and drive Hyundai to make critical decisions to harness this potential.
Hyundai’s Response and the Birth of Genesis
Somewhere between 2015 and 2016, Hyundai dealerships began offering re-badging as one of their official services with new Genesis vehicle purchases. Re-badging had moved from customers removing and replacing the emblem with the dealerships themselves offering this service.
There is no evidence that Hyundai publicly listened to the Genesis communities and their re-badging efforts to move Genesis to a separate brand. However, I cannot imagine that it did not have a part to play in these decisions.
With the dealerships providing re-badging services and customers themselves taking an interest in rebranding their vehicles, there had to be good evidence for Hyundai to take the risky leap of creating a separate brand.
Gaining recognition in the market, the Genesis community continued to flourish. The Genesis Forum provides further history about the re-badging idea in regard to branding.
The Genesis Brand Announcement:
In 2015, Hyundai made a bold move by introducing Genesis as a separate global luxury brand, departing from its traditional positioning.
This marked a significant shift into the luxury car market.
In 2017, Genesis launched its first standalone model, the Genesis G90, officially launching the brand’s offerings. This strategic decision was driven by market acceptance, feedback from the Genesis community, and Hyundai’s vision to capitalize on the brand’s success and passion.
Genesis was now positioned to become a serious contender in the luxury car market.
Genesis: From Re-badging to Luxury Brand Leadership
The customers in the Genesis communities saw the difference in the Genesis product and built a true connection to this brand –even going so far as to re-brand their own vehicles.
The passion and support of this community had to play a part in its success. Genesis quickly caught the attention of automotive critics and experts with its impressive offerings.
Sales were decent to good, with Genesis winning market share from other, well-established luxury brands.
And, the Genesis brand has managed to do what many would have called impossible back in the days of the Excel – win MotorTrend’s 2023 Car of the Year award.
Hyundai’s entry into the luxury car market with Genesis has proven successful. Through the dedicated support of its enthusiast community and a relentless pursuit of excellence, Genesis has successfully transformed into a prominent luxury brand, surpassing expectations and earning the admiration of automotive experts and enthusiasts alike.
The Influence of the Genesis Community and the Changing Relationship Between Brands and Consumers
The Genesis enthusiast community has played a pivotal role in shaping the trajectory of the Genesis brand and transforming the relationship between brands and consumers.
In an interview with Sal Colascione III, founder of Madison Ross Media Group and GenesisOwners.com, we gained valuable insights into the influence of the Genesis community and how online communities are reshaping brand-consumer dynamics. https://kdmwarehouse.com/collections/genesis
How soon after the launch of the first Genesis vehicle in the US did you see customers start re-badging their vehicles?
“Right away. It was quite some time ago, now. 2008. But people were rebadging almost immediately.”
How have you seen the community’s feedback or ideas influence Hyundai’s decisions?
“This is a bit challenging to pinpoint with certainty as Hyundai/Genesis doesn’t generally make it aware that they’re watching. Where I believe there has been influence is with product improvements via suggestions throughout the community, and customer service improvements as the new Genesis brand is being rolled out.”
In what ways do you believe online communities like yours are changing the relationship between brands and consumers?
“In my opinion, communities like mine are changing the relationship between brands and consumers by creating visible and referable accountability and an easy-to-find history of that accountability.
What advice would you give to brands looking to engage with online communities for feedback and idea generation?
“My advice would be to have company representatives become visible and accessible to the community. Even negative situations can be turned into positives with the right brand representatives interacting with buyers.”
How can brands use these forums to create more customer-centric products and strategies?
“Brands can use forums to get input on ideas of their own and develop products and strategies based on new ideas they may never have thought of. I once saw a member of a GM community bring forth the idea of an ‘Emerald’ edition for vehicles that are ‘green’ or electric. To this day, I don’t believe any brand took advantage of that advice. I still think it’s a great idea. Brands can also locate their biggest ‘ambassadors’ to help enhance their image among buyers.”
We all crave connection. When that connection ties us to a brand, it has the power to change the landscape of that product and its industry.
The growing relationship between Genesis and its customers demonstrates the power of connection. In their quest to create a new identity, the customers took on the rebranding of the product, and Hyundai soon followed suit.
The emergence of the Genesis community provided Hyundai with the knowledge that they were on to something powerful. Their bold move to position Genesis in the luxury car market allowed them to capitalize on this potential.
Brands can learn from the Genesis experience by engaging with online communities and groups of enthusiasts, making representatives visible and accessible, and leveraging the communities’ ideas for customer-centric products and strategies.
These customer communities offer valuable insights and foster stronger connections between brands and consumers.
Customer communities are priceless brand assets and are all too often ignored. Ignoring these organic communities could mean lost opportunities and profits for the companies that are not listening.
By engaging with customers and building connections, companies can identify areas for growth and greater profit margins.
The transformative power of the Genesis community should serve as a not-so-gentle reminder that not only do we need to know our customers, but we also need to learn how to listen to them as we move our products forward.
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