“Made in Korea” and Korea’s Nation Brand (Part 2)
Monday, September 27th, 2010
This article is the second part of a two-part series based on our discussions and exchanges with Martin Roll, business and brand strategist, former Honorary Ambassador to Korea and the author of the global bestseller “Asian Brand Strategy“. The first part was about Korea’s Image and Global Brands, the second part focuses on National Branding and the role Koreans and expatriates can play in this process.
On Nation Branding
Branding Korea: The field of Nation branding is often a source of controversies. What are your thoughts on this practice and the importance for Korea to build a strong Nation brand?
Martin Roll: Branding a country is very complex, very controversial. There’s a lot of political agenda and there’s a lot of trade-offs because you can’t satisfy everyone. The rise of Seoul on the world map, the bold decisions by LG, Hyundai and Samsung have done a lot in terms of country branding for Korea. In Denmark and the Nordic countries for example, Samsung and other major Korean brands did a phenomenal job to increase the awareness about Korea, but somehow I think on a state level, we need to hear a little bit more from Korea. The country is too quiet.
And so I think it’s now time for the government to take control on behalf of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), Tourism, Trade, and not leave it all to the private and commercial enterprises. I know it’s incredibly difficult, especially when you have a neighbor that can overshadow anything you would sent out, but it takes resources, it takes time and it takes a lot of sophisticated measures to brand a country. Overall, I think there is a golden opportunity but also a certain emergency for Korea to build a strong Nation brand during the next 10 to 15 years while China is rising. Korea could look at how Singapore utilizes a very effective, government-led nation brand strategy – their efforts are very comprehensive, concerted and works in tandem.
For the last couple of years, we have seen multiple initiatives originating from public and private organizations aimed at improving Korea’s global image and reputation. Is it time to start to build greater synergies among all these different messages?
Having diverse initiatives can be a positive thing because branding a country is not a single modular thing; it’s very multi-dimensional and very sophisticated. So the more agencies, constituencies and stakeholders you will involve, the better for a country.
But at the same time, you also have to be careful because if you have all those constituencies, you can spend all your good resources, all your good faith and end up with 40 different messages. So I think it’s very important for Korea at this point of time to take back control and try to create what I would call Message Control Management. I know that’s a little controversial and most of the agencies would hate it, but without killing the initiatives, without killing the good faith, without killing all the hours spend, to make sure that they control and prioritize the messages – as much as it is now possible.
It has to start with an overall key focal point for what is Korea on the global scene in terms of Trade, Tourism, FDI, the country side, the modernity of Korea, the old fashion in Korea, etc.., and then make sure that once they go into the global media and PR space, they will not post 40 different messages and be a little bit more controlled. At the same time, you have to make sure that Korea has many voices because Korea is so many diverse things. But I think it’s time to build a little more synergies compared to what has been done and to probably pull in more resources, not on multiple agencies, but in a more orchestrated effort. It’s not a criticism to the past, I think it’s a way to move to Korea 2.0.
Korean & Expatriates in the National Branding Process
What do you think of the role of the Koreans living abroad in the national branding process? Could they have a more important role to play as representatives of their country of origin and “Brand Ambassadors”?
There’s no stronger endorsement than hearing things from the Koreans themselves. For example, I’m representing Singapore in the “Goodwill Ambassador Corps” program, an initiative created 16 years ago and that consists of 140 Danish people living outside Denmark, all over the world. We all hold a Danish passport but we are also fully en-grained in the local culture and we do a lot to promote Denmark, especially in terms of FDI, trade, tourism and exhibitions.
When you meet people in different countries and speak on the behalf of the government and the state of Denmark, it carries a lot of weight. For example, I managed to get Forbes Global CEO Forum to be hosted in Copenhagen back in the summer of 2005 with 600 of the top global CEOs who could experience Denmark on its most beautiful side in the summer time. This is worth a lot, not only in terms of money, but also in terms of image, and I think that’s one idea that the Korean government could use. Through the Korean ambassadors and the ministry of foreign affairs, they could try to target 200 to 300 of the most famous, influential and well connected Koreans living overseas. If you can rally 200 to 300 Koreans on a global basis, 24/7, it is worth millions if not billions of dollars for Korea. And that would be a unique voice; it would be a Korean voice in the global landscape.
From another perspective, can the expatriate community living in Korea also help shape the perception of the country?
The expatriate community has a huge credibility, because first of all they’re survivors. It’s very tough in the long term to survive as a foreigner in Korea unless you become an insider and speak the local language. Singapore created a campaign about 10 years ago where they selected multicultural talents living there to exactly explain to the world why they chose to live in Singapore or why it’s cool to go there for a while. It could be a very interesting thing to do for Korea. But as for Koreans living abroad, the representatives of the expatriate community would have to be handpicked.
Korea My 2nd Home
In one of our previous articles here on Branding Korea, we talked about how the Brand Kenya Board built a specific program to have people talk about the country as their second home. Would such a program be effective in Korea?
Thailand had also a similar program called “Elite Thailand“, and even though many countries could have that, you just have to ask yourself: “Would people make Korea their second home?“.
Just because you’re a foreign VIP working in Korea for 3 to 5 years, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Korea has become your second home, because Korea is not a hub in itself. I think Korea is more like a place where you either live or don’t live, unless you’re a native Korean or have specific reasons to stay for a longer period. On that note, I believe Korea has an unprecedented chance to become a hub for Northern Asia. It is an undervalued destination and country to live in. I myself am actually considering making my regional hub in Seoul – it is a lovely place.
Final Words on the Korean Destination
To conclude this series of articles, how would you introduce Korea to your peers?
Korea for me is a land of contradictions: modern versus old, young versus old, dynamic versus conservative. You can take all the dimensions, all the trade-offs, it’s really a land of contradictions. And you should not try to manage those contradictions, because that’s exactly what makes this country beautiful.
This is what I find the Korean country brand should also emphasize: that Korea is multifaceted and has a lot to offer to the world. But I’m not sure Koreans quite understand it as of yet. They don’t realize how much the outside world actually love to hear more about Korea because once you experienced it, you cannot let it go.
For example, when the Hallyu, the Korean Wave, was at its peak, you could ask all the Koreans about it and they would just look at you and say “Korean what?“. They didn’t understand that some foreigners really enjoyed the country and its culture. They were really surprised about it and now this has really emerged into a different and larger phenomenon. You can ask also most of the women in Asia, and they would more or less reluctantly say that they actually look at Korean women for their impeccable and porcelain-like skin. Korean women are probably the most beautiful in Asia – they are extremely beauty-oriented, fashionable and their attentions to details are impeccable. That is why for example a company like Amorepacific has done so well in the home market – their brands cater very well to this high level of sophistication.
Also, it really took me a lot of time to break in under the Korean skin of people, my business contacts, and my friends. It takes quite a while, but once you get to know Koreans, they are wonderful people. I love every time I come to Seoul which is 8-10 times yearly for my clients, and to run executive seminars and briefings for chairmen and CEOs in Korea.
So Korea to me has so many contrasts and is always very surprising. When I go there I always learn something new that I didn’t know before. It’s kind of a small hidden secret. It is time to unlock the Korean potential.