Claire Chai

Senior Vice President, Brand and Marketing, Kia

"Our goal is to become a tier-one automotive brand by 2016. To reach that goal, our mission is to become one of the most desirable brands in the automotive industry by providing a different type of driving experience that will enhance people’s lives and enrich them every day."

What do you think Kia Motors has done to land your brand in the top 100 this year?

Elevating a brand is a long-term commitment. It requires a holistic approach instead of a fragmented one. Kia has been able to make significant progress in many areas during the past few years. In terms of products, we have made a great leap in both quality and design between 2009 and 2012, which has been demonstrated by the numerous awards we have won (149 awards in design and quality) from influential industry organizations and media outlets around the world.

During this time, we have nearly replaced our entire line-up with a new generation of products that are now on par with the best offerings from the leading international brands. In terms of vehicle segments, we are highly competitive in fuel efficient, compact vehicles that offer the best value for money in times of economic hardship and rising oil prices.

On the branding front, we have remained true to who we are: a young brand. And we remain focused on being dynamic, exciting, and unique.

But we still have a long way to go and we will continue to forge our own brand character in the future.

As Chief Marketing Officer, how will this ranking help you do your job better?

This is a big honor for us. It shows that we have become a true global player, and it opens a new horizon for our future growth. It give us the motivation to continue to surpass peoples’ expectations—that is, to show that we can deliver on “The Power to Surprise.”

What is the biggest goal of Kia Motors’ brand in the domestic and international market?

Our goal is to become a tier-one automotive brand by 2016. To reach that goal, our mission is to become one of the most desirable brands in the automotive industry by providing a different type of driving experience that will enhance people’s lives and enrich them every day.

What role does design play in Kia Motors’ brand?

Design has played a strategic role in the recent evolution of the Kia brand. We have embarked on a design-led management strategy with the arrival of Peter Schreyer in 2006 as Kia’s Chief Design Officer.

Now, we have three state-of-the-art design studios located in Korea, Frankfurt, and California that keep their finger on the pulse of emerging global trends. We have a talented team of more than 200 designers of all origins, who ensure product differentiation and cutting-edge design.

Kia Motors has had a significant year with initiatives such as the Kia Cinema and dynamic and broad brand activities that extended to collaborations with brands in different industries. What are the ultimate goals of those brand-related activities, and what has KIA Motors accomplished through them?

These brand activities provide a different type of brand experience to our existing and potential customers. The objective is to give people a positive impression about the Kia brand. We want people to feel something new. We want people to have a good time. And we want to be where people don’t expect us to be, and that again is “The Power to Surprise.”

Digital experience gives a brand owner an immediate opportunity when it comes to evolving and furthering brand relevance. How do you view “digital” and the role it plays in furthering Kia Motors’ relevance? What best practices have you been able to leverage?

As much as design, digital has a strategic role in driving people’s attention and influencing people’s choices. But becoming a relevant brand through digital requires the ability to hit a moving target since things change so fast in today’s digital world. In order to be as comprehensive as possible, we had to consider many different aspects of our digital activities including infrastructure, content, channels, conversations, etc.

In terms of infrastructure, we have started to enhance our digital platform and our search marketing in order to make it easier and faster for people to get the information they want. In just one year, we have been able to improve our user traffic and user experience significantly.

Also, we are consolidating the domain globally (191 countries) in order to bring brand consistency to our digital space and to avoid confusion caused by different Kia URLs from different regions.

In terms of content, we have started to post some very creative brand videos—one example is the ‘Rio’ viral film made in conjunction with 20th Century Fox, which generated over 13 million views on YouTube.

What is the role and responsibility of the Kia Motors brand in today’s diverse social issues such as the aging society, the global economic crisis, and so forth?

We are carefully monitoring all the social issues that touch people’s hearts and minds. Our role is to inject some optimism when there is a downturn, either through adapted product offerings or through uplifting customer experiences.

Do you have a vision for contributing to society as a global brand?

Our commitment to corporate social responsibility is an overriding principle that shapes our business activities and decision making.

Our priority is to provide opportunities to the younger generation and contribute to the local communities in which our production facilities are located. In 2011, 27,459 people participated in 158 Kia-sponsored CSR programs.

For example, our ‘Mali project’ is a tree-planting program with the goal of tackling Mali’s environmental challenges and poverty, while our ‘Green Light Project’ provides practical assistance for construction, medical care, education, and environmental preservation in Tanzania.

In order to tackle inequality and poverty, our commitment does not consist of one-time donations, but rather steady investments that can lead to self-sustainability.

What do you predict Kia Motors’ major strengths and weaknesses will be during the next decade? How will Kia Motors overcome those weaknesses?

One of our major strengths is our proven capability in product quality and design. Behind this drive to do things better, we possess a challenger’s spirit which is part of our DNA. This spirit will never be satisfied with a few successes, but will always be the driving force behind continual change and innovation.

One of our major weaknesses is our global awareness level. In some regions of the world, we remain unknown. For example, we still do not have a business presence in India and Mexico, two of the world’s major emerging markets.

But it is more important that the few people who know us like us, rather than having many people knowing us and disliking us. So we are looking forward to seeing our potential unfold in all regions of the world.

What advice can you offer to brand managers who are trying to foster a global brand?

The first prerequisite is to have passion for branding. A successful brand manager needs to protect and nurture his or her brand in order to make it grow.

My second piece of advice is to stay focused on improving people’s lives. That’s the only way to invent something new and to move forward.

  • About Claire Chai

    Claire Chai joined Kia in 2010 as the Head of the Brand Management and Marketing Strategy Division at Kia’s global headquarters. In this capacity, she has initiated extensive innovative marketing activities to elevate the Kia brand.

    Before joining Kia, Ms. Chai worked for L’Oreal for 17 years in key functions and various countries. Throughout these years, she developed a solid expertise in marketing. She graduated from Columbia University in the U.S., and obtained a MBA degree at INSEAD in France.