K-pop has lessons for global-mindedComing on the heels of Korean TV drama serials, K-pop began to appear in China, Japan and Thailand in the early 2000s and in recent years has jumped to Europe, the Middle East and the Americas, creating a second Korean Wave.
International concerts and TV appearances like Girls’ Generation’s recent appearance on “Late Show with David Letterman,” a popular U.S. show, is augmented by explosive online popularity. The number of views of K-pop videos reached 2.3 billion on YouTube in 235 countries in 2011.
The success of K-pop groups did not come overnight. Rather, it has been the result of methodical planning and execution that offer valuable lessons to any company with overseas ambitions.
The first success factor is systematic preparation. At the preparation point, Korea’s entertainment companies carefully lay the groundwork for taking their artists overseas. The process includes auditions, a rigorous training regime, producing shows and promoting globally. The training in particular is highly engineered, with aspirants undergoing five to seven years of singing and dancing. Thus, only the best of the best can carry K-pop, ensuring the genre’s strength in the music industry.
In delivery, K-pop has utilized social media services with the likes of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, giving Korean groups worldwide exposure. The speed at which K-pop clips can go viral reduces the time and cost needed to gain awareness in foreign markets. It took the singer Boa five years from her debut in 2001 to gain international attention, but K-pop groups have reduced the time to months.
Consumers who actively enjoy culture have contributed to the global success of K-pop. K-pop is the music of young people, especially women in their teens and 20s, who like to use social media and portable electronic devices. These young fans also create their own K-pop-inspired entertainment that is put on social media platforms and further promote awareness of K-pop.
Lastly, from the content perspective, K-pop has all the ingredients to captivate audiences worldwide. Melodies are incorporated with Western-style pop music. There is tight and creative choreography, and the entertainers’ fashion flair and styles have broad appeal.
The K-pop craze not only means enormous economic value added to the entertainment industry; it has become a major cultural asset. And many other industries can potentially benefit. For example, the game and animation industries can develop characters by using K-pop content and stars. Korean musicals and dramas can be based on K-pop songs and singers similar to how “Mamma Mia,” a 1970s hit song, was turned into a hit Broadway musical.
For the travel industry, tour packages that combine concerts, shopping and music locations could be developed to attract more overseas tourists. In fact, domestic travel agencies are a bit behind on this. The Japan Travel Bureau, the biggest travel agency in Japan, already offers Korean Wave tour packages.
Of course, any number of industries could have K-pop stars personally endorse products or have their images attached to products. Although this is a well-worn approach, it has not lost its effect.
Lastly, companies need to turn their attention to K-pop fans in the Middle East and Latin America, where the fan base is broadening.
K-pop succeeded in making Korean music marketable overseas by reinterpreting it in a more dynamic way. The lesson for corporate strategists is that they need to assess their business models and aggressively retool when needed to capture foreign markets.
Another lesson is that entertainment management companies planned for the long term to overcome their weak brand power. Latecomers with weak brand power but high quality, or companies targeting emerging markets, should remember that K-pop’s success has been built on steadily broadening its fan base rather than pursuing short-term profits.
by Seo Min-soo
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