Korean popular culture, known as K-pop, has really taken off globally over the past two decades. Ever heard of “Gangnam Style”? K-pop as a whole spread globally purely through a massive PR and marketing effort supported by the South Korean government.
The real, organized promotion of K-culture, branded as “The Korean Wave,” began in the early 1990s. This wave spans music and TV dramas, dance, gaming, fashion, beauty, and food.
What’s most notable about the branding of the Korean Wave, across all industries, is its uniqueness, consistency, and structure. Like in any great branding campaign, Korean popular culture was strategized, rolled out, and repeated according to plan. That’s not to say there haven’t been roadblocks or changes along the way, but for the most part, The Korean Wave can serve as a textbook example of how to take over the world – at least in the sense of cultural branding.
Although many scholars believe the Korean Wave is not a replicable formula, brands can still learn some important lessons from the methods the pop culture masters that pushed the wave onto international shores. For simplification purposes, let’s just focus on the branding of the overall K-pop music industry.
In keeping with the national pride that has encouraged Korean uniqueness for thousands of years, K-pop is recognized as its own musical genre separately from pop, hip hop, EDM, and others. The creators of the genre noticed a void in the music industry, had an idea to improve it, and created a whole new musical product that filled those gaps locally and globally. Though it has become increasingly mainstream, K-pop remains true to it’s roots even while adjusting to changing tastes and trends.
Similarly, PR and marketing people need to evaluate and continue re-evaluating the market. Finding the void their product or service fills and locking into that space for the long haul will help maintain and grow loyal fans and customers. Adjustments might need to be made along the way to stay relevant and on top of the competition, but at the core, what makes a brand different than others is crucial to defining brand identity and standing out.
K-pop is not run by a monopoly – there are many production companies that sign k-pop groups and solo idols, release music, and put on shows, yet the product as a genre remains fairly consistent. That’s because an agency called the Korea Creative Content Agency (KoCCA) holds a loose leash on production. Money and a desire to maintain uniqueness drive producers to push out new, targeted content without limiting creativity. K-pop might have fizzled or blended into other genres had the KoCCA not supported and monitored the creation of K-pop to keep it unique.
In PR and marketing, brand and campaign consistency is crucial to success. Consistency is necessary for brand recognition. Within a company, it is important to find cohesion in messaging and design across all platforms from high-budget, public activations to the most barebones internal emails.
In the K-pop industry, there is a clearly defined method to crafting this constantly unique product. For most, that process includes raising future idols in boarding schools so they can focus on studying music, dance, and public speaking from a young age, working their way up. They must then be chosen to join a group or start a solo career. After plenty of practice, they may get to debut as rookies – a trial run before they can become full-blown K-pop idols. Even after the artists are officially released as idols, their performance and image is continually monitored and adjusted to produce the best possible content.
For a brand, a similar structure should be in place before launching a product. Starting with schooling, AKA, preliminary market research. Then, roll into primary research to test the brand power – just like rookies being tested before audiences on a smaller scale. Lastly, once the brand, product, or service debuts, keep monitoring the performance and continuing market research so adjustments can be made along the way.
Focusing on uniqueness, consistency, and structure will help develop and grow aa strong, resilient brand. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to jam out to some K-pop to get those creative juices flowing!