If you´re age 35 or older and waiting for Kumho Tire U.S.A. Inc. to approach you about its brand, don´t hold your breath.
That´s because the U.S. subsidiary of South Korea´s Kumho Tire Co. Inc. figures you´ve already made up your mind on tire-buying. So the tire firm will continue to focus on the 18- to 34-year-old audience—particularly males—with an even more specific emphasis on those 18 to 24.
"The reason we chose them is that those who are above 35 already have a mindset," David Hudrlik, senior vice president of sales, told dealers at Kumho Tire U.S.A.´s annual dealer meeting, held Jan. 13-16 in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico. "They´ve heard of the big brands and generally they´re loyal to those brands. If we took all of our money and focused it toward them in something like Major League Baseball, we´re not going to change their minds."
With a firm that has limited resources for marketing and advertising, it´s important to get the most bang for the buck, said Rick Brennan, a 35-year tire industry veteran who is Kumho Tire U.S.A.´s director of brand management. "It´s more spending our money where we can have an impact with the young and build for the future," Brennan said. "And we´ll capture the rest of (the tire buyers) through the normal dealer sales process, because the rest of them—if they don´t watch the X Games—aren´t going to see our ads."
Going along with its theme of Xceeding Xpectations, Kumho Tire executives understand that all its efforts start with a high-quality product.
"Without product, advertising is useless," said Jay Yoon, Kumho Tire U.S.A. general manager and chief operating officer.
Added Brennan: "Product-wise, the expectation of the younger market is huge. So we need to make sure we live up to that."
When trying to reach the 18-34 demographic, it´s not as simple as just putting an ad on television or in a magazine and waiting for the buyers to file in, Kumho executives said.
"They´re going to make their buying decision really on what they discover from where they want to get the information, which is grass roots, and from their peers, and from their personal experiences," said Mike Leverington, director of sales and marketing. "But they´re not taking the word of ´Corporate America.´ "
The tire maker looks to get as much face-to-face communication as possible with its potential customers by being present at events frequented by the age group. "You try to influence them when they´re doing what they want to do, because you can´t put out an ad today where you talk about yourself and they believe," Brennan said. "If they think you´re trying to dictate to them, it´s all over."
So at events like the Street Warriorz tuner series, of which Kumho is the title sponsor, Brennan said the company puts on a display but doesn´t try to jam itself down the attendees´ throats. "When they come up and want to talk to us, we talk to them," he said. "So they learn a little bit about us piece by piece, face to face. They see the way we act, the type of events we go to. It´s kind of just like hanging out with them."
It´s also about creating a "buzz" about your product. That happened last year when Kumho put tires on a car in a drifting event that emitted red smoke. "Two days later there were threads all over the Internet about Kumho and red smoke," Brennan said. "We didn´t advertise it. They talked about us, and that is precisely the key."
Kumho got so much positive feedback from that tire, in fact, that it will begin marketing a limited number of sizes that emit either red or blue smoke, mainly for the drifter market. While it sounds like a gimmick, it´s actually difficult and expensive to do, with the internal mixer having to be cleaned out after each batch.
"We´re not just niche active, we´re very much a grassroots company," Brennan said. "So we need people talking about us. And the best way to do that is to come up with ideas that are wild and crazy. We don´t have $50 million to spend on a tire launch, but we can come up with ideas that create a buzz."
Motorsports will continue to be a major part of Kumho´s marketing program, as the firm´s advertising tagline "Race Proven Performance" indicates. It will participate in the American Le Mans Series, Sports Car Club of America, drifting and Championship Off-Road Racing.
"It´s a great medium for growing our brand," Leverington said. "It demonstrates the world-class quality of our tire."
Kumho also will be a sponsor of the Summer and Winter X Games, which are televised on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC. It will run television advertising on those networks during the games, along with advertising on the ESPN Internet site, ads in "ESPN: The Magazine," and on-site exposure and local dealer events.
Other TV spots will be on CBS and Speedchannel for the American Le Mans and CORR races. The marketing effort also will include retail promotions; local dealer interactive opportunities at races; hospitality areas; use of drivers and cars for dealer trade shows; consumer and trade magazine ads; Internet marketing; and dealer communications.
Kumho plans to introduce its new Ecsta AST all-season tire in April, if all sizes are ready for distribution by then. The tire will offer asymmetrical grooves for improved traction and wear; new belt cord for improved durability; and new bead construction for better uniformity. It will be available in 16 sizes ranging from 15 to 18 inches.