Branding? Modern Korea has it allThe most important part of my job is protecting and enhancing the United Kingdom’s image in Korea. Developing a national brand opens doors of opportunity in trade and tourism. It also builds political platforms and underlines credentials in diplomatic engagement. Both the U.K. and Korea recognize this value and are working to develop their brands.
Nation branding is a form of soft power - effective use can change perceptions and influence behavior. In a recent report by Monocle magazine, the U.K. was ranked No. 1 in this area. We are not resting on our laurels. 2012 offered a unique opportunity for the U.K. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and Olympic and Paralympic Games focused a global lens on our country, thereby presenting an opportunity for us to present all that is great about modern Britain.
The depiction of our modern reality is key. In Korea, I am struck by the warmth and affection people show for the U.K. In a survey of the Korean public, our culture, heritage and strength in education were identified as key strengths. When I meet Korean contacts, talk with friends or chat with taxi drivers, similar themes emerge; the royal family, Westminster, Oxford and Cambridge and the sacrifice of British troops during the 1950-53 Korean War. We are immensely proud of our heritage and honored Koreans place such value on these aspects of our identity.
However, we want to go beyond this and present facts with which Koreans may not be so familiar. Like, did you know Britain builds more Formula One Grand Prix cars than any other nation? Or that approximately half the world’s commercial aircraft are flying with wings made in the U.K.? That our creative industry sector - the largest per capita in the world - is worth more to the U.K. economy than the financial sector? And that London’s Tech City is the largest and fast-growing tech area in Europe? These are some of the realities of modern Britain and the evidence that cultivates our brand and place as the international home of creativity and innovation.
Other countries are boosting their brands too. The Philippines has a fantastic new campaign that presents the country as vibrant and fun. For too long, they have lost out to regional tourism competitors and are trying to win over more of that market. Indonesia is another regional player redefining its identity, focusing on business conditions in a bid to increase investment.
Korea’s economy has performed well in spite of the global economic crisis. In 2013, it is expected to grow by about 3 percent. However, no country is immune from international events. Increasing trade, investment and tourism are vital in safeguarding and growing domestic economies. That’s why building a brand that appeals to tourists or investors (or, ideally, both) is so important.
So what is Korea’s national brand? Great efforts are being made to build it, but perhaps there is a need to play to current strengths and focus more on the aspects that are likely to be of greatest interest to an international audience.
There is no doubting Korea’s rich culture and fascinating history. But are they the factors that will captivate the international community and boost growth? With other global powerhouses like China and Japan in the neighborhood, it will be a challenge for Korea to set out its unique selling points. That is a challenge to which I’m confident Korea can rise. This is a dynamic country with a tremendous work force, cutting-edge technology and some of the best-loved pop culture in Asia. Perhaps these could form the backbone of Korea’s nation branding efforts.
The focus on the personal and the fun is really important, too. Last year, Psy catapulted Korea onto the international stage with his infectious hit. The scale of his remarkable success was impossible to predict, but it does underline the importance of brand ambassadors and the ways in which a country’s people can and should be used to shape its brand.
Our two countries have more in common than might meet the eye. Both must resist the temptation to focus on history and cast an eye to the future to build solid, sustainable brands.
The author is head of media and public affairs for the British Embassy in Seoul.
by Colin Gray