Differentiation Is Missing Element in Branding Korea
By Robert Dickey
Branding is powerful, and reaches beyond the obvious. Diverse concerns of modern Korea can all be traced back to the weak image Korea projects globally.
While many Koreans view the branding issue in terms of the financial aspects of export sales and inbound tourism, global lack of support or unawareness of Korea's position in battles such as the naming of the East Sea, integrity of Korean lands such as Dokdo and Mt. Baekdu, Korean history such as the independence of Balhae and Koguryo, and even the origin of Kimchi point
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council's 2008 statistics, Japan's inbound tourism is only 20 percent greater than Korea's. Yet there is no doubt that Japanese global influence now reaches far beyond Korea's.
Tourism and culture should not dictate branding. The national brand is the face of Korea for tourism, industry and beyond.
Too often branding is confused with marketing, just as marketing is sometimes intentionally blended with sales. Each has its own role, and influences the others. Branding is more than a name, more than a service mark, logo or jingle. Branding is a concept or idea that represents a collection of facts and impressions, and does so in a memorable and positive way.
The American Marketing Association defines a brand as a ``name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers. Brand is a sense beyond pure logic, the sum of an individual's experiences and perceptions. Some of these can be influenced through marketing and public relations, and some cannot. The Exxon Valdez oil tanker disaster will forever be associated with Exxon oil products, yet the brand name was powerful enough to withstand the catastrophe.
With differentiation as a central prerequisite, the flaw in mimicking the practices of competitors becomes immediately apparent. Instead, the aim should be to distinguish in a positive manner, even if the line of products is quite diverse.
When you think Xerox, do you think photocopier? For many xerox is a verb. Yet the company failed in the computers business, and IBM too is no longer making personal computers.
On the other hand, Nike is more than shoes.
"Just do it" and the swish conveys the message. Domestically, Samsung has a strong brand across the fields of electronics, construction, retail sales, and even automobiles.
Many companies across the globe envy the fierce loyalty Samsung enjoys from its consumers. Yet outside of Korea, the brand suffers through association with Korea's national brand.
Ask a Vietnamese or Thai whether they would prefer an equally-priced air conditioner from Samsung or Toshiba. The Japanese product wins. Or choose LG or National, still Japan is preferred. Same for cars. The Korean Wave has promoted culture, but hasn't yet "closed the deal" economically.
Forty years ago Japan suffered from similar branding failure.
"Japanese Junk" was the reputation in the early 1960s, but by the early 1980s Japan was renown for quality. Honda autos beat BMW in consumer satisfaction reports, Toyota bested Volkswagen, and Seiko watches were right up there with the best Swiss factory pieces.
Nikon and Canon cameras were considered unparalleled. There was no "Singapore Girl" vision, no "Amazing Japan" tune. Instead, Datsun became Nissan and from a "good little truck" it started kicking the pants out of Chevy. In fact, the "Zero Defect" and "Quality is Job One" advertising campaigns by American automakers were an admission that the Japanese brands had won their place through quality, not marketing. "Made in Japan" had turned from a joke to pride of place. Nobody built it better than Japan. "Made in Japan" was the national brand.
Formulating Korea's Brand
Branding is too often confused as marketing's poor cousin. Korean marketing, as discussed in many other articles in this series, has focused on Korea's own domestic perceptions and misperceptions of their offerings, but have failed to incorporate a "mountaintop view" big picture approach of the totality of Korean offerings from a foreign perspective.
Marketing research has been haphazard, most resources poured into advertising, and a logo or gimmick tacked on to bundle it all together.
Instead, a serious branding study must look from the SWOT analysis perspective: Korea's Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats in global competition. As quick examples, not to get immersed in what should be done as part of branding research, Haeinsa Temple's Tripitaka Koreana printing blocks and Gyeongju's Cheomseongdae observatory are two world-class marvels that establish a historical base of culture and technology, while the Mugunghwa satellite and IT bring Korea fully up-to-date and beyond, how many countries can boast of such? (Hint: the answer is less than one.) Instead, we hear about Korea's mountains, temples, palaces, and shopping. Hardly unique or compelling even for inbound tourism, and absolutely useless for other purposes. A focus on sales of domestic-interest tourism has prevented a more encompassing branding design from supporting a wider cross-section of Korea's needs.
Corporate or National Branding is challenging, it reaches far beyond marketing of specific items. It cannot succeed with components that violate the joint brand concept.
A nation's line of "products" reaches far beyond one type of good or service. The "Thai smile" is not just advertising, but a critical component of "Amazing Thailand." Swiss precision and German efficiency are brands crafted through hundreds of years. Branding delivers the core message clearly, confirms credibility, motivates potential consumers and seals it all with emotional loyalty. Ultimately, quality branding and a quality product will lead to "word of mouth" advertising that money cannot buy.
More than the swirl of colorful Hanbok, Korea's brand must incorporate the fundamental characteristics of Korean society, culture, and industry. This land of passion must move past "the Morning Calm" and put those attributes to work in developing a brand worthy of itself.