Korea Ranked 17th in National Branding Index
This is the 11th in a series of articles highlighting ways of upgrading Korea’s image and brand from international ‘Nation Brand’ experts on the occasion of the 58th anniversary of The Korea Times, which falls on Nov. 1. ― ED.
By Savas Hadji Kyriacou
The latest Nation Branding Index produced by East West Communications (www.eastwestcoms.com) ranked South Korea in 17th place globally in its third-quarter results, which is up from 28th place in the second quarter of this year.
Korea's international image is less than clear and by and large very narrow. Generally, the image that people have of South Korea is shaped through a single lens based on a narrow view or experience of Korea rather than a holistic view based on knowledge of Korea's politics, business, culture and so on. Korea lacks an overall identity that incorporates its diversity.
One reason for the lack of a broader knowledge of Korea is that even though the country has succeeded in building a strong industrial base and many successful global brands, the association of each of these products and services with Korea is limited, particularly for end consumers. Simply, the value of 'made in Korea' is not fully realized. One result of this is higher marketing costs for individual products and services.
To date, most countries have been able to create a better brand image of themselves by succeeding in economic terms. But, a common mistake or rather the loss of a great opportunity is the fact that they all lack a cohesive approach in how they market their national brand.
One such example is Dubai, which although just one of seven emirates in the United Arab Emirates, has created the image of success that many countries would envy. Its aggressive economic growth and booming real estate market appear to be a winning formula in creating an image of a modern, successful state. The approach Dubai has taken, 'Build it and they will come' is being emulated elsewhere, especially in countries that have sufficient financial resources.
But with its great success, has Dubai overlooked the longer-term opportunity of managing and shaping its brand image? What does Dubai produce? What is it known for? What are the pillars of Dubai's reputation and vision?
Many would argue that the economic boom of the Gulf States fueled Dubai's success as the emirate recognized the region needed its own economic and tourism hub. But have developed economies bought into Dubai's approach? Is the love affair with Dubai only a temporary marriage of convenience?
Without a clear branding strategy that better articulates and shapes who and what Dubai is and has to offer the world, for today and tomorrow, Dubai may find itself in increasing trouble as other Gulf states and emirates fast-track their own development. As many argue, Dubai's brand was largely built by realizing the vision of Sheikh Maktoum for his emirate. But there is always a risk in tying your identity too closely to one individual.
The question is, has Brand Dubai realized its full potential? Could a team managing the brand have been more successful in creating a business and tourism hub that is durable beyond the petrodollar era? One could argue that success in the short-term might have become an obstacle to putting in place branding management and strategies that would serve the long-term more effectively.
Croatia has succeeded in turning its image from a war-torn nation into a desirable tourism destination, but it has failed to capitalize on this success by developing a comprehensive, umbrella brand for the nation as a whole.
Partly to counter the negative effects of a widespread, widely-covered mad cow disease epidemic in the late 1990s, Great Britain launched a campaign with the slogan 'Cool Britannia'. The concept went through tens of millions of dollars in development and execution only to be eventually dropped as a failure because it did not capture the broad identity of Britain. British industry felt the branding effort completely overlooked its role, and that Cool Britannia was a net negative for its interests.
Greece is a truly blessed country. With over 2,000 sun-drenched islands, a rich culture and history, world-famous philosophers, and the undisputed birthplace of democracy and the Olympic Games, Greece has inherited many branding treasures. Even through mythology it has 12 gods, presided over by Zeus, unlike the single God of most cultures. It's simply an irresistible nation of beauty, culture and history. And, in recent times it has become the linchpin of Southeast Europe, leading investment in the region.
Yet despite hosting the Olympics in 2004, Greece has not managed to capitalize on these great brand assets. If managed properly, Brand Greece could produce great rewards for tourism and investment, and elevate Greece's role as a regional leader in a market of 300 million consumers. In short, Greece is highly undervalued and held back by its own inabilities to successfully mould a brand that directly supports the government's agenda in political, social and economic terms.
Kazakhstan is another example of a country with major branding assets but minimal brand development or management. Kazakhstan has vast resources in minerals and energy, is a potential agricultural superpower, has great tourism opportunities and has a government that has wisely got rid of a nuclear weapons arsenal, promoted inter-faith harmony and generally presided over steady economic growth.
Yet more people heard of Kazakhstan through the movie Borat, which makes fun of it, than through any efforts of the government to brand and market the country. Understandably, the Kazakh government was not happy having Borat brand their country, but to this day they have not mounted an effective alternative campaign of their own.
Commonly, countries that have tried to brand themselves initially start out with timid, low-key approaches that generally lack definitive measurable goals. Most of these efforts get lost in tourism-oriented campaigns or bureaucratic advocacy projects that over intellectualize nation branding making adoption and execution almost impossible. Korea must learn from many these experiences and focus on creating a national brand that enables its government, private sector and peoples to compete more effectively in today's and tomorrows world.
Ultimately, economic power translates into diplomatic and military power, as we see through the supremacy of the United States today. South Korea is no weakling today, and through good positioning and branding can wield its influence with ever-increasing success.
Nation branding skeptics tend to confuse branding with advertising, or to focus on the complexity of managing such a task. But as with the development of tourism ministries and the reality of our global village, branding is today an important consideration for every country and region of our world. Using marketing techniques to help countries achieve greater competitiveness is slowly becoming more acceptable and winning over skeptics.
Korea's branding effort can increase the value of its assets, be they political, economic or even cultural, and create a more competitive environment for its stakeholders in a rapidly changing global environment.