Brand managers in the automotive sector are a savvy group of experts who are continually challenged to understand and manage the intersection of functional benefits of automotive engineering and the emotional experience drivers crave against the background of society’s increasing environmental concerns. The brand intersects across multiple levels in this sector from product and ‘trim’ branding to channel marketing and customer lifestyle. Even the corporate brand halo impacts on the associations and preferences towards an individual model or engineering performance.


Hyundai Motor Group which controls both the Hyundai and Kia brands has a large building in Seoul with twin towers,. Employees turn left for Kia and right for Hyundai when they enter the shared reception. Both these brands were on a tear in global markets as Korean management implemented a ‘Beat Toyota’ philosophy to improve quality and service in its existing and new markets. I led a strategic project to evaluate a new naming system to provide a more coherent nomenclature system for the Hyundai and Kia cars. The project required global research with consumers and key executive and industry expert interviews, focus groups with customers and development of alternative names and evaluation of current equity of car names for both brands to tie in with a positioning statement and new brand platform.


Nissan’s transformation in the early part of this century was attributed to Carlos Ghosn but the incumbent management was staffed with exceptional strategists who were able to take the leadership vision and run with it to revitalize the Nissan brand. The brand strategy was pervasive – The ‘master brand’ approach used a top-down strapline – ‘Shift…the Future’ with multiple executions depending on the level of brand support needed. I worked on multiple naming projects as new models were rolled out in short order. Over a period of three years, we developed and provided a strategic rationale for likable, protectable names for new iterations and refreshed models of the Nissan fleet in Japan. Names developed and brought to market include the Nissan Fuga (large saloon car) and the concept car, Nissan Jikou.


Toyota’s Lexus brand was initially an overseas brand only but its success in North America galloped ahead of expectations. Management in Tokyo monitored the situation and decided to bring the brand home for the first time to gain acceptance and status in Japan. The challenge was to differentiate it sufficiently from the Toyota Crown brand, which was the heartland of domestic luxury at the time. The research phase was used to develop a mapping of customer and dealer, channel acceptance of Lexus by defined psychographic customer types for parallel brands and potential near neighbor brands. The outcomes led to a brand differentiation strategy by setting up a completely new dealer channel and dialing up perceptions of luxury and benefits through superior customer service. The Lexus badge was also limited to a few models at the time of launch.


Nissan is a company dedicated to continuous improvement of its brand in the marketplace. In an effort to raise the performance of its dealer channels, management asked for tools and communication vehicles that could be developed for regional managers to pass on to staff in the global network. The brand management project provided creative assets and marketing materials at the HQ level in Tokyo for dissemination to the global franchises and dealer partnerships. A set of creative materials were developed to communicate Toyota brand positioning and brand values through a brand book and training materials for dealers and staff.