Interview: Genesis Global Brand Chief Manfred Fitzgerald on Developing a Luxury Brand

From celebrating the Oscars to culture at large, how the brand is building awareness

Weve had our eye on Genesis as they make progress in their quest to become a luxury car manufacturer that people are aware of and have respect for. This is accomplished both by building solid carswhich they haveas well as making a statement to consumers about what their brand stands for. Auto industry watchers have certainly taken notice of some key talent thats helping develop the brand. Manfred Fitzgerald and Luc Donckerwolke, head of design, worked together and helped revive Lamborghini before joining Genesis, and more recent hiresSangyup Lee, former head of exterior and advanced design at Bentley, Alexander “Sasha” Selipanov, the former head of exterior design at Bugatti, Albert Biermann and Fayez Rahman who led aspects of BMWs product development and M division have many eagerly awaiting the new concept car that will be announced at the New York Auto Show in March 2018.

None of this matters much to the brands target audience of coursethey just want a great experience, a great product, and to be part of the brands halo as it grows. In the US, Genesis has invested in the arts, with their recent $500,000 gift to the J Paul Getty museum supporting arts education and in sports, with the Genesis Open. We caught up with Manfred in LA where the brand partnered with Vanity Fair to celebrate the Oscars.

Manfred, tell us why entertainment and partnering with Vanity Fair to celebrate the Oscars is an interesting partnership for you? Why does it resonate for Genesis?

Establishing a luxury brand from the get-go, coming from zero, is not the easiest task. It all starts with the product and Im very comfortable and confident about the whole product lineup that we have so far, and even more excited about what is coming in the future, so I have a little bit of a head start towards you there. I know how exciting the products will be.

But making a brand successful, there is more than one component of the product. The brand componentis a very, very relevant one, and I think almost the most important one. You want to be seen and you want to be perceived in the right way, associated with good other brands, associated with brands that fit in that space. As Im also all about putting culture at the forefront of this brand, I believe that this is for this market here in the US, a very, very significant engagement that were having, so it fits right up our alley of positioning this brand as something that should be seen as very, very special.

Do you perceive this event to be bigger than just the US market?

Oh, definitely. Hollywood has its cach and its reputation and its buzz all around it worldwide; that resonates with our domestic market, but also the other markets where we are entertaining the idea of stepping in, namely Europe and China.

How does it fit into the other kinds of initiatives youre looking at?

Looking at this brand is for me always looking as if Id be looking into a kaleidoscope, the way you always see these different speckles and different aspects of this brand shining. And I think this is just one of the various facets of this brand. I would like to be perceived and like to be seen as a multifaceted brand, so therefore, this is as you said, this is just one part of it, but a very significant, very important one.

What are some of the, I was going to say quirks, but maybe opportunities in the American market that are different than some other markets youre present in?

I think the American market is a fascinating market: The western world is still leading in terms of establishing a brand, [even though in] the volume game different. You might be selling in different parts of the world much, much more volume, but to be, to position a brand, you first have to really achieve that here in the western world. Therefore, the US is a very, very important market for us on a global level.

And the US, the Americans, I must say they give everybody a fair shot at it, if you wish. You have to deliver on your promise and on your proposition that youre putting out there, so if you can deliver to that, I think the Americans are very, very open to listen to any new proposition which is out there.

How do you service customers who are already buying and are passionate about the brand and those you want to attract to the brand, who are probably a little bit younger?

Thats a very interesting question Each and every product of ours is here to serve a purpose, to serve a target and catering to certain people. That said, Im not looking at this in a one dimensional way. I think this brand has overarching principles and values, which have to be reflected in all the engagements that were doing, so let it be sports, let it be music. As I see it, a brand should never stand still. It shall always evolve, so I dont like to be put into a certain corner and remain there. I think thats a great benefit and a great advantage that we have to becoming players. They have done this over decades and you have a certain image of these brands. Were the new kid on the block and we can express ourselves in totally different ways.

I think if you only look at it from a theoretical approach and say, “OK, what is trending, what is hip, and what do the people buy into?” you have to be careful not going after these things, labeling something which you yourself have difficulties finding any kind of bridge there. A luxury brand is all about authenticity, so, “Does it feel right? Does it sit well with the brand?” Were still as a young brand here in the US, still in broadcasting mode. We still have to get the word out. People still have to discover us, not only our products, but what this brand is all about.

You mentioned earlier that theres flexibility at the brand level and at the product level, that different products can be tied to different types of partnerships … So pop music may work well with one product, art with another, sports with a third. Thats kind of interesting.

It is because I think anybody who buys into this brand, and Im saying really buys into this brand, because I dont believe that people buy products, but they buy into brands, is more than welcome, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, background, etc. So I would never say were only targeting the millennials.

I want people, if they hear the name Genesis, to feel good. This is a brand where the products will make you feel good. All our activities, our communication, the way we speak, the way we articulate things, should make the people feel good. I think thats very important.

Now is the time to listen to them and learn also from them, and really try to meet their expectations, not only today, but also tomorrow

I feel like the last auto brand that did thatand I thought did it pretty wellwas Saturn. Obviously the product is different, but that spirit of community, of being the hub, sharing being happy, it was executed really well.

And establishing relationshipsI think thats more valid than anything else. We should not understand ourselves as a transaction business, you know, which is trying to sell. I dont think that will carry you a very long way. I think its more about really establishing this community of likeminded people and working very, very closely together with them.

I think the times and days are gone where an (automobile) manufacturer can impose the thinking on their customers as it was decades ago. I think you have such a vast variety of individuals out there who are seeking other things. And we have certainly, in the automotive business, not lived up to their expectations for many, many years. I think now is the time to do this in a different way and to listen to them and learn also from them, and really try to meet their expectations, not only today, but also tomorrow.

Images courtesy of Genesis