Improve Korea’s Brand at Home
By Mark E. Patton
Marketing guru Philip Kotler, in his book ``Marketing Places,'' tells us how we can gauge the success of a place's marketing efforts. ``Place marketing… succeeds when citizens and businesses are pleased with their communities, and meet the expectations of visitors and investors.'' Visitors and investors develop their image of a place from their interaction with local people and organizations. If people living in that place aren't pleased with their communities, they won't make a favorable
In the ``Branding Korea'' series, we are using a fairly new marketing buzzword to talk about what is actually quite an old concept. Before ``branding'' was the hot issue, it was ``image,'' and before that, we simply referred to it as ``reputation.'' The efforts of a person, a company, or even a government to improve or maintain a reputation do have some effect. What really makes up your reputation, though, is what others say about you.
Any good marketer knows that the most effective and believable marketing is word of mouth followed closely by publicity. (Remember that word of mouth is what others say about you, and publicity is what the news media says about you.) What others say about you without being paid is more credible than an advertising campaign. Favorable reporting by the international media about a nation's accomplishments is more believable than a government-sponsored promotion. If the administration of President Lee truly wants to improve Korea's reputation in the world, it is important to look at who is saying what about Korea, and why.
What is the message that Koreans themselves send out about Korea? Koreans rightfully have a strong sense of national pride, especially when Korean athletes succeed in the international arena. Anyone who has had the pleasure of hearing the ``Buy Korea'' speech knows about Korea's strengths. Korea has a very high literacy rate. Koreans are a very hardworking people. Korea is strategically located in northeast Asia. But what do Koreans really say to the world about their land, their culture, their life?
A simple way of determining how Koreans feel about living in Korea is to walk along Jongro or Gangnam-daero and watch the faces of those you pass. Finding a smile among the passersby is like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. During the morning rush hour, Koreans hurry to jobs where they sit for ten or more hours per day. The lack of anticipation or enthusiasm they have for their work can almost be felt in the air. In the evening, the pace is even more hectic as they hurry to drinking appointments or evening study sessions. If it is late enough, weary Koreans can be seen finally heading home to get a few hours of sleep before starting the cycle over again the next day.
Apologists will defend Korean stoicism, and the hectic pace of life in Korea as part of the culture, so let's look at a more tangible measure. Many marketers judge the effectiveness of their campaigns by looking at how customers ``vote with their feet.'' Successful marketing campaigns bring customers in the door; unsuccessful ones do not stop them from leaving or worse, make them disenchanted so they do leave. Are Koreans staying in Korea, or are they seeking a more attractively ``branded'' country to live in?
According to OECD migration statistics for 2006, permanent emigration from Korea to other countries averages around 7,000 to 8,000 people per year. This is a reduction from a high of around 20,000 in the mid-1990s. This reduction is due mainly to the tightening of quotas by countries to which Koreans emigrate, not because fewer Koreans are applying for immigrant visas.
What is alarming is the difference in who is leaving Korea now. In the 1970s and 1980s, most Koreans who left the country were from the lower middle class. They left to find a place where they could improve their economic status. Now it is the high achiever who leaves Korea, often taking with them assets of $250,000 or more.
Korea is also experiencing a serious brain drain. In 2006, the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Switzerland conducted a 58-country study on retention of the highly educated. Out of the countries surveyed, Korea ranked 38th in its ability to retain its ``brains.'' In 1992, Korea ranked 6th out of 37 countries surveyed. Another study conducted in 2004 by the National Science Foundation found that three-quarters of Koreans doctoral degree holders living in the United States did not plan to return to Korea.
Both of these trends are bad news for Korea's brand image. They not only show that affluent and highly educated Koreans are unhappy at home, but also undermine one of the main selling points of ``Buy Korea.'' Trying to lure potential investors to a country based on its highly educated workforce will not succeed if the highly educated ones are the ones who leave.
What message, then, are the financially successful and the technically expert Koreans sending when they leave their homeland, permanently? What does it say about a community when those who leave do not do so because of economic hardship, but because they now have the means or the marketable skills to live where they choose? What are they looking for that their wealthy lifestyle or advanced degrees cannot obtain for them in Korea?
The answer in a word is ``livability.'' Dr. Kotler lays out the overall strategy behind improving a place's brand as improving the place's livability, investibility, and visitability. Other articles in the Branding Korea series provide in-depth discussion of investibility and visitability. The rest of this article will focus on two essential elements of "livability": education and work-life balance.
Korea's educational system is a paradox. On one hand, it is has produced the ``well-educated workforce'' so often cited in the "Buy Korea" speech. On the other hand, education is one of the main reasons that Koreans leave Korea, to find better educational opportunities for their children.
The OECD's 2008 Education at a Glance report summarizes some telling facts about Korea's public education system. Korean parents are less satisfied with standards of achievements in schools than in most other countries.
The Korean government spends 17 percent less per student than the OECD average. Also, in the five years between 2000 and 2005, the percentage of public expenditure on education in Korea declined from 16.3 percent to 15.3 percent. Although the report does praise Korea for offering high teacher salaries, it also points out that Korea has the largest average class size among all OECD countries.
Combine these ingredients and the result is a public education system that pushes students through a rote program, with few or no extracurricular activities. Large class sizes mean little attention is given to the individual student. Most families have to spend extra time and money sending their children to private institutes to augment their education.
If a family cannot move away to escape the Korean education system before their child reaches college age, many send their child away once they're ready to attend university. Korea is one of the top four exporters of university students in the world, with over 100,000 students now studying in other countries. Part of the reason for this is that fees for higher education in Korea are cheaper than only two other OECD countries: the US and Japan. The quality of Korean higher education, though, is not commensurate with the expenses. Only one Korean university, Seoul National, makes the top 100 universities on the QS World University Rankings for 2008. (Seoul National is ranked 50th, up from 51st in 2007.) Only one other, Pohang University of Science and Technology (188th) appears in the top 200, followed by Yonsei University at 203rd.
Reducing class sizes, introducing more variety into the curriculum, and improving the ability of Korea's teachers should be the goals of education reform. A significant investment in education will go a long way to enhancing Korea's brand image.
As reported in this paper in August 2008, the average number of hours worked per year in Korea is the highest among OECD nations. The same OECD report showed that Korea ranked 27th out of 30 for productivity. So another of the "Buy Korea" pillars is a paradox. Yes, Koreans do work very hard (or at least very long hours), but at the end of the day produce only $20.40 worth of goods and services, just over half the OECD average of $38.
One of the reasons Korean emigrants give for moving to another country is to escape Korea's long working hours. Hand-in-hand with this is the desire for more professional stimulation. Organizations, not the government, are directly responsible for improving the productivity of their workforce. The Lee administration could, however, have a positive effect on productivity and professional opportunity by rewarding organizations that address these issues.
Rolling back some of the restrictive labor policies of the Roh administration will introduce more flexibility of movement between jobs. Organizations should also be encouraged to tailor their compensation and rewards to promote professional development and productivity-enhancing behaviors. Providing training and development to help employees in all fields become more effective and productive will help improve Korea's ``livability'' score. This will happen because they will derive more satisfaction with their work life, and also have more leisure time to enjoy.
Korea has achieved amazing things in its transformation from a war-torn poverty-stricken former colony to the highly advanced and prosperous nation we see today. The next stage in improving Korea's brand is to focus on one goal: make Korea a better place to live. Once visitors and investors see how happy Koreans are to be here, how could they possibly stay away?