Why Korea Needs To Become A Brand

Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co. announced Tuesday that it capped its best year ever with another record quarterly profit. Korean car manufacturer Hyundai announced another year of record auto sales—double digits over the previous year’s record-breaking sales. South Korean rapper Psy’s video ‘Gangnam Style’ became the first video to hit a billion views on YouTube. LG (formerly known as Lucky Goldstar) has struggled to keep pace with its homeboys, but it still sells millions of Androids in fifty markets around the world.

Korean exports are going crazy successful. Meanwhile, Korea, the country exporting these esteemed brands is best known for kimchee (pickled cabbage) and its annoying northern neighbor.

Does a national brand matter? Yes, and here’s why.

Let’s look at other countries as examples. Italy is known for incredible style and design—so products that emerge from that country, from Gucci to Ferrari, are radiant with the essence of Italy’s national brand.

Famously, Japan transformed their national brand image from being cheap plastic imports to becoming experts in high-end manufacturing, from (albeit now tarnished) Sony to best-selling Toyota.

Switzerland is known for accuracy, which bolsters (or perhaps is the result of) its watch making and banking industries.

Think “German engineering.” “French fashion.” “English weather.”

On a recent branding mission to China, we learned that every child in Chinese elementary school is taught the three Chinese innovations that changed the world: gunpowder, the compass, and movable type (Chinese ancients also invented paper currency). These historic advances give China the foundation for incredible credibility as a potential leader in innovation.

The United States has its own brand, well-recognized for capitalist free enterprise and incredible industrial design. Vis a vis the Apple products in demand the world over, as well as all those 1950s finned cars still motoring the roads in communist Cuba. (You can probably include your own examples, proof of Brand U.S.A.’s resonance and resilience.

Having a national brand matters, because it makes products emerging from that nation more meaningful. It gives them a context, and makes them part of a continuing legacy of quality, design, smarts, whatever. Rather than coming from nowhereland, these products resonate with consumers and become meaningful within the surround of the national brand.

When compared with its Asian rivals (consider that the press covers events in China almost every day), Korea is known more for the hijinks of its Northern rival in North Korea.

If the country of Korea had more national brand luster, not only would products from Hyundai, Samsung, LG have more momentum, but products from other Korean companies would also benefit.

And that’s a story we bet Koreans would love to read.