South Korea’s K-pop industry is one of the examples of modern marketing techniques that other marketers can emulate. Right now, the West knows and follows several K-pop artists, such as
- BTS (Bangtan Boys)
- Black Pink, EXO
- Red Velvet
Among these top Korean music entertainers, the most popular now is BTS. The 7-member Korean boy band has broken record sales in the United States and made it to the U.S. Billboard Charts several times. They won in the U.S. Billboard Music Awards three times and is hailed as the 2018 most influential Korean celebrities by Forbes Korea
What made these young K-pop celebrities popular in many parts of the world? What’s their marketing secret?
Hallyu Wave – The Beginning
Hallyu Wave or Korean Wave was coined by journalists from Beijing and first came out in print in 1999. The Chinese journalists used the term while discussing the phenomenal interest and popularity generated by Korean pop culture and the country’s culture in general. Korean Wave is not just about Korean musical groups and bands. It includes Korean dramas and Korean brands such as LG, Samsung, Hyundai, Kia and others.
South Korea was drastically hit by the Asian financial crisis that occurred in 1997. It led to much-needed government and financial reforms in South Korea, Indonesia, Japan and Thailand.
In South Korea, the government started restriction on Japanese cultural imports, which created a cultural void, as the government wanted to prevent financial outflow. The Ministry of Culture of South Korea started a mission to improve local culture from within by building a roster of local talents. It was a concerted effort, with universities in South Korea creating 300 departments for Korean culture.
The effort made a big impact, with the production of Shiri, the country’s prime big-budget film produced locally. It was a huge success, grossing more than the iconic American film, Titanic.
At the same time, K-dramas (Korean dramas) were making inroads into the Chinese market, which started the Korean Wave. Korean dramas also became a hit in Japan, India and several countries in Southeast Asia. Among the first TV dramas that made a big impact was Winter Sonata, followed by Full House.
K-pop followed the footsteps of K-dramas, winning attention and interest among overseas audiences. Among the first performers outside South Korea were solo artist BoA and H.O.T., one of the first South Korean boy bands. The major breakthrough started in 2005, with the debut of boy bands such as Super Junior and SS501. The groups quickly rose to fame, building huge fan bases in many parts of Asia.
The advent of digital technologies, smart phones, video sharing sites and social media allowed the Hallyu Wave to flourish worldwide since 2010. At that time, the music exports of South Korean grew by 168 per cent. It was around that time, as well, when interest in K-drama and K-pop grew in the West. It cannot be denied that the song and video of Psy’s Gangnam Style contributed largely to the worldwide attention on K-pop.
Although K-shows and K-pop music were not aired in the United States, fans got their Korean Wave fix thanks largely to YouTube and several other video streaming sites.
South Korean companies are quick to take advantage of the worldwide attention to the Hallyu Wave, broadening their markets by using the popularity of South Korea’s popular cultural exports. LG Electronics brought concerts by popular Korean performers around the world. They hired the most popular Korean TV and movie personalities to be their product endorsers, increasing awareness of their brands locally and internationally.
Local Marketing Strategies
The South Korean government’s plan to improve and boost their own cultural exports proved quite successful. In 2016 alone, the country earned US$4.7 billion in revenues from K-pop global sales, making the industry one of the major contributors to the growth of the country’s economy.
In the 1990s, J-pop or Japanese pop was making headway in the music industry, helping put Asia on the worldwide music map. But J-pop is more hard-edged, emulating the popular bands from the West, but given local flavors. Modern Japanese music has always been about what’s new, what’s edgy, what’s trendy.
Almost at the start of the 2000s, the popularity of J-pop was overshadowed by K-pop. While J-pop is more for rock music bordering on raw and hard-core music, K-pop appealed to different age groups through their synchronized choreography, catchy lyrics and beats, bright and striking costumes and exuberant personalities.
Macroeconomic Growth Plan
We can say that everything was planned to ensure success. Actually, it is, as it was part of the government’s successful execution of a macroeconomic growth theory. The plan focused on the development of technology, human capital and physical capital, all geared to realize the maximum growth of the music industry of South Korea.
The government literally spent millions to develop its music industry, starting with the development of a physical capital, the Chang-dong district. It is a K-pop hub, with recording studios, concert halls, retail stores and restaurants, which were all established to support the growth of K-pop. Next year, the district will house the Seoul Arena, the largest performance hall in South Korea, which contains 20,000 seats.
To improve the human capital, JYP Entertainment, YG Entertainment and SM Entertainment, the country’s key recording labels, scouted and developed talents countrywide. Successful individuals were made to undergo rigorous training programs in singing, dancing and acting for several years before they are allowed to debut, either as solo artists, duos, trios or groups. They were coached in public speaking as well.
The government support for K-pop continued with technology. Residents of Seoul have access to high-speed Wi-Fi, with almost all public places in the capital city providing free Wi-Fi access. The service boosts the streaming capability of local songs and videos and improves the sales of concert tickets, music albums and K-pop merchandise.
Multimedia innovations such as virtual reality and hologram concerts allowed fans to interact with their idols digitally. The government will be investing more than US$222 million in 2020 to further develop the country’s multimedia technology.
Hallyu Marketing Strategies
It’s undeniable that South Korea has made a huge success in marketing K-pop overseas. Many companies would greatly benefit from following the winning formulas for marketing K-pop internationally. Interestingly, language did not become a barrier for fans worldwide to enjoy the music, TV and movie appearances and concerts of their South Korean K-pop idols.
If you look at it closely, the global success of South Korea’s music industry created a domino effect, increasing the sales of other South Korean businesses, particularly those dealing with vehicles, household appliances and mobile gadgets. Recently, Korean fashion accessories, cosmetics and other beauty care products are included in the mix.
Here are some of the strategies that help popularize K-pop globally.
1. Learn Content and Social Media Marketing
Pop stars in South Korea are dominantly present in prominent social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. Their presence on these sites boosts their popularity, gauging from the number of views of their music videos, the #hashtags generated on Twitters and the increased engagement rates on their video posts and photos.
K-pop artists have pages, accounts and channels of their own on several social media sites. They are further supported by the websites of their label companies and other sites that matter.
They also have regular features in various apps and forums such as OneHallyu, Soompi, AllKPop and Reddit.
You can use this tip by creating social media channels of your own in order to reach your potential targets. You should choose the channels that your target consumers use. Aside from posting relevant content, see to it that you have social media managers who can participate in discussions and post comments. Your social media managers should share, comment and like the posts of other people, so that you can foster goodwill and good reputation for your company and your brand.
2. Share Behind-the-Scenes Content, Trailers and Teasers
Korean pop stars share almost everything about their being performers. Most of them share videos while at home, during concert preparations backstage, dance and singing practice sessions, while traveling and when they’re filming music videos. They post trailers and teasers of their upcoming albums, singles or shows.
Doing these things makes them more relatable and giving clues and hints about their new activities makes fans giddy with anticipation.
Use your channels on different social media sites to reveal things about your company and products. You might want to let them know what a typical day in your office is like or how a product is made or even what you do to launch a product.
Another option is to have a chat or interview with some of your clients or loyal customers and ask them to share the benefits they gained from using your services or products. You can use teasers to make your target consumers anticipate new products or services from your company.
3. Build a Unique Cultural Ecosystem
Did you know that K-pop has its own language? Do you understand bias, bias wrecker, stan, skinship, maknae, eonni (unnie), oppa, hyung, noona, dongsaeng, hoobae, sunbae, dongan, selca, OTP?
Aside from that, they borrow music genres, musical styles and costumes from other cultures and adapt them for their acts.
You can build your own cultural ecosystem by utilizing best practices, espousing diversity and developing a style that fits your organization or something that will become a signature of your product and teach it to your company/brand community.
4. Stoke the Passion of Your Customers
What keep K-pop stars alive are their passionate fans. They are very important to the industry as they influence the fates and popularity of the Korean stars. Fans strongly identify with their idols. They are like a part of themselves or their family and they are protective of them with all their might.
They save money to buy official merchandise, buy their idols expensive gifts, send donations during their idols’ events, send food carts, raise funds, and so on. Would you believe that Sehun, an EXO member received some land in Scotland as a 24th birthday gift from his Chinese fans? By virtue of land ownership, Sehun can be officially called Lord Oh Sehun (in Scotland, at least). They share milestones and anniversaries with their idols. Their label companies put up plenty of fan events, which help keep fans happy and stay loyal to stars they support.
Fans also have monikers. Fans of BTS are called ARMY, while those who support the group Twice are called Onces. BlackPink’s fans are Blinks and those who are loyal to Red Velvet are called Reveluvs.
You do not have to invent monikers but it would be a good idea to know more about the members of your communities on social media sites. You should think about adding value to their support. One thing you can do is to build a closer relationship with them, by having meet ups, discussion groups and celebrating your milestones with your loyal customers. Listen to what they want in a product and respond to their comments, requests and opinions.
5. Grow Content Creators
In the K-pop industry, one thing that fuels fan bases is fan-made content. You can find fan websites all over the Net, where they post articles, videos, photos of their idols in various contexts. Some fans are able to post photos of their idols from childhood to the present, share stories of how their idols started their journey to success, video clips of past and current performances, and more. In South Korea, these things are encouraged instead of being considered as intellectual property infringement.
You can apply this tip by encouraging your customers to share your own content. Let them know that they can create their own by basing them on your content. Invite them to your events, encourage them to post their own coverage of your events and provide them incentives such as free products and services.
Network with influencers, individuals and media alike. Give them chances to view or try your products before they are launched.
6. Concentrate on Content Marketing First
In the Korean music industry, entertainment companies spend money to build their brands (idol groups). They make use of everything possible to ensure that their stars are always seen and heard. Once the groups are established, it is easier for them to make money from the popularity of their stars. They earn from concert ticket sales, albums sales and other idol-related merchandise, from caps to clothes, cushions, photo cards, cafés, calendars, stickers, dolls, key chains, accessories and more.
They can recoup their investments from various product endorsements their stable of K-pop acts can promote.
Once your brand is stable and you have garnered a loyal following, you can monetize your brand’s relationship with them by creating branded items, working with non-competing products to produce co-branded items or offer your loyal customers with premium products that cost slightly higher.
These are just some of the techniques used by the K-pop industry to make money. You have to invest to earn revenues later. Marketers can apply some of these K-pop marketing tips to rev up their sales.
And when it comes to accurate K-pop translation, be sure to work with a professional translation company.
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