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The race is on…

Sponsorships are an essential element in Hankook’s brand awareness strategy at European level.

#Hankook Italia

Hankook’s sights firmly set on the Italian market: 2018 will be a pivotal year in terms of new products, hefty investments in brand awareness and, above all, a retail network evenly distributed throughout the country.

Nicoletta Ferrini

Hankook adjusts the course but not the destination. Despite recent strategic changes at the top, the final objectives remain the same: "to be recognized as a premium brand worldwide, while preserving our values, offering innovative products and services", says Stefano Alessiani, Hankook Italia’s marketing manager. So far things are going in the right direction. "We are one of the top seven tire makers in the world and rapidly growing in Italy too," states Alessiani.

"2017 was a rather intense year with highly fluctuating trends. After an excellent start, the sudden rise of raw materials, forced us, like many other manufacturers, to revise our final prices and adjust them upwards and this has obviously slowed sales down. Once costs were back to normal, so were our sales volumes and thanks to an excellent winter season, we closed the year on a high note."

A new leadership

Between the end of last year and the beginning of this one, the top management of the company underwent a large turnover which led to the appointment of Soo-Il Lee as the new president and CEO of the group and Han-Jun Kim as Chief Operation Officer for Europe and the CIS markets and Head of European Headquarters. At the same time the Italian Headquarters too experienced a wide management restructuring with Carlo Citarella now at the helm of the Italian subsidiary.  "Appointing, for the first time, an Italian CEO is a symbolically important choice not only for the history of Hankook in Italy, but also in the light of the most recent strategy of the group: growing globally focusing on each single country and consequently on local managers. Basically we are establishing a foothold in every market but with a global vision”, explains Stefano Alessiani. This process started, and not by chance, in Italy: our country - which is also responsible for Cyprus, Croatia, Greece, Malta and Slovenia - is in fact one of the "top 5" European markets for Hankook and such an experience will be particularly useful  to understand if and how this new organizational approach can be replicated in other markets too. "Italy is called upon to be a benchmark - Alessiani confirms – and 2018 will certainly be full of challenges”. The goal is not only to increase our turnover, but also sales volumes and - it goes without saying – our presence on the market.

A  network built around the specialists

The latter is clearly one of the main objectives in view of developing the brand on the Italian market and is found right at the top of the company’s agenda for the current year. "At the end of 2017 we opened the first two centres of our new Hankook Masters network: Azzurra Gomme in Oleggio (Novara) and Bolla Pneumatici in Pinerolo (Turin). Furthermore, we are looking at increasing the visibility of the network throughout the country by the end of 2018", confirms Alessiani. Hankook Masters’ specialized network was created to offer end users a widespread service in line with the brand’s philosophy. "We have developed a new concept of network, inspired by what some of our competitors are also doing. However, compared to many of them, we have deliberately chosen a name that our dealers are familiar with and that, above all, bears the name "Hankook". This, we believe, will contribute to create a greater and more consistent brand image and awareness". The first to be involved in this new adventure were the most loyal customers. "We searched for those who, among our customers, would be interested in the project. Finding dealers ready to take such a step is everything but simple because the vast majority of top Italian tire dealers are already affiliated with a competing network and in many cases have been for more than ten years”. To make its proposal attractive, Hankook is betting on a territorial growth strategy and on an ever expanding offer. "We plan to develop our network following the specific needs of our dealers, adding innovative services and whatever our competitors aren’t offering at the moment  - illustrates the marketing manager of Hankook Italia. One of the fundamental features behind this strategy is the fact that we do not ask any entry fees. In addition we also take care of customizing our partners’ stores. This shows how much we believe in this project and in our clients". Hankook Masters winks at large and small retailers alike. "Size is not fundamental, what’s important is that our partners are solid and value ​​our products. In this sense, we look at each case individually and every new entry must be approved by the group’s top management".

News, news and more news

Many are the novelties, in terms of products and services, expected in 2018. "A new  hi-tech All-season tire as well as two summer products will be introduced on the market at highly competitive prices - declares Stefano Alessiani. Furthermore we’d also like to consolidate our support brand Laufenn ". What about fleet services? "We have been chosen as standard equipment by some of the leading heavy transport brands such as Man, Mercedes-Benz and Scania, so we now need to align our proposals to our main competitors in the sector and we are currently defining a project about it".

Moreover, 2018 will be a decisive year also for  Alphatread, specifically dedicated to retreads, and the partnership with BR Pneumatici. As announced in Bologna during the last Autopromotec event - international biennial dedicated to automotive equipment and the aftermarket - the agreement between the two companies has confirmed and strengthened a long-standing partnership, entrusting BR with the production and logistics management of truck retreads to be sold by Hankook in Italy. During the year, the Alphatread range, which currently includes two drive axle tires - the All-seasons R-DH31 in size 315 / 80R22.5 and the R-DM09 in size 13R22.5 intended for use both on and off-road, will probably grow further: "we are currently engaged in a study to understand if and how present conditions are conducive to the development of the range."

Investing on brand image

Hankook’s growth must take into consideration the popularity of the brand. One of Hankook's "brand awareness" strategy at European level finds one of its pillars in sponsorships. This year too, Hankook will be the sole supplier in the German DTM championship which, as of 2016, has expanded into other countries and in 2018 will have an Italian event on the Misano Adriatico circuit. At local level, Hankook will support Luca Panzani, the Balbosca team and an all-female team made up by Rachele Somaschini and Alessandra Benedetti in the CIR (Italian Rally Championship). But Hankook's sports commitment is not limited to motor sport only: "we are the official partner of the UEFA Europe League international football competition as well as Real Madrid’s global partners and a gold sponsor of the Olimpia Milano Basket team, not to mention our involvement as gold sponsor in the popular Spartan Race obstacle course".

Nevertheless, the central element of the strategy to increase brand image and visibility remains the extensive use of social networks: "it’s our main marketing asset for this year's objectives - Alessiani confirms. We are set to insist on all means of communication used so far, but thanks to the launch of our Facebook account we are looking at making a decisive leap in quality. In just a few weeks we have already received around 10,000likes. This instrument, in our opinion, is crucial for conveying ideas and advertising promotions, but above all to increase brand awareness."

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