Gangnam Style is no accident

Korean flagby Tony Fannin, CEO/Partner, BE Branded  |

PSY is a phenom. His song Gangnam Style is one example of the power social media has in promoting a brand and driving revenue. To many, the mass popularity of the song is contributed to a lucky break or some other one-off reasoning. Many also see him as a one-hit wonder. PSY could most likely be a one-hit wonder, but his global popularity is not a lucky break of an individual.

PSY is a part of a strategic global branding effort by South Korea. They are trying to make their own space and brand since they are caught in the squeeze between China and Japan. Through years of planning and execution, South Korea is emerging as a cultural and economic powerhouse in their own right. They blend pop-culture such as K-pop’s (Korean pop music, a term that is gaining global status) Wonder Girls and Girls Generation (they have gained global appeal over the last few years) with business powerhouses with the likes of LG, Kia, Korean Airlines and Samsung. PSY is just another installment of this global strategy to build and enhance South Korea’s global brand influence.

Their mission is to “export” their ideas and brands to the world since their own country is a relatively small market. Most countries spend millions and billions of dollars promoting cultural brands within their own country (Buy American), The Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism spends $3.5 billion in promoting “Brand Korea” to the world. As a comparison, the U.S. spent $146 million in 2012. There’s little wonder why the emergence of South Korean entertainment and business have dominated Asia and, now, the global scene.

Their investment in branding deserves a closer look. Here are the key elements they employed on their road to success:

• Investment – They put their money where their goals are. Too often in this tech world, many companies are under the false notion that you can market and dominate for almost nothing. Social media is “free”. Crowdsourcing is “free”. All of the digital metrics allow us to see the effectiveness of each tactic leading to the believe in a “silver bullet”. If all of this “free” stuff and singular tactic approach really worked by itself, shouldn’t we have a lot more mega brands? It still takes good, old fashioned capital investment to make any marketing and brand strategy work effectively.

• Integration – South Korea just didn’t rely on social media or TV advertising. They also didn’t just depend on promoting their companies or entertainers. They created an integrated approach to market their total brand. A blend of tourism, entertainment and business combined with a fluid mix of social media, paid media and PR, all contributed to the rise of South Korea as a nation. They understood integrating their assets and marketing is more powerful than just trying to sell each one individually.

• Creating brands we like to belong to – They understood how to brand and position each of their assets in a way that had great appeal and not come off as competing with each country. While buying a car from Shanghai Motor Company would feel like a slap to Uncle Sam, buying a Hyundai feels green and right on. South Korean brands don’t threaten, but are seen as more of a common cause we want to belong to. They are viewed as challenger brands and, for the most part, we all love those.

If you are a small business or are competing against giants in your industry, use South Korea as your example to follow. They are punching way above their weight. Who knows, Gangnam Style should be your rally cry.


About Be Branded

Tony Fannin is of President of BE Branded, an integrated marketing firm who helps clients BE Somebody to their customers. If you aren't somebody, then you are commodity.

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