In the 1980s and 90s, Korean companies were not known for their marketing prowess. They were manufacturing focused and their products were often seen as low quality, or “me-too” items. Further, their marketing efforts were not coordinated globally and often focused on sub-brands in overseas markets that were created with the goal of tailoring the product offering and positioning to local market needs.
Today, the major Korean companies – particularly Samsung, LG, and Hyundai – are marketing (and in many cases market) leaders. They have leading, high quality products and marketing programs that are consistent and compelling globally. And perhaps most importantly, they have made the case for the global brands more convincing than ever.
Korean companies are not the only ones to successfully implement global branding. Google, Nike, and McDonald’s are just a few examples of companies that have built global brands. However, starting with Samsung in the early 2000s, Korean companies showed clearly the benefits that can be reaped by consolidating marketing initiatives and spending towards one global or umbrella brand, as opposed to implementing fragmented local efforts.
Of course, the most important part of building a respected brand is offering compelling products, which Korean companies did through concerted efforts to improve the quality and innovation of the products they offered. Armed with these products, Korean companies then spent billions of dollars to build their brands – awareness and image – on a global basis.
As a result, today these companies are winning in a big way. Market share, revenues, and profits are at all time highs. The brands are household names well beyond the Korean borders.
It all makes sense of course. For years, I have worked with companies struggling with the global vs. local brand dilemma. In many cases, a local market leader had a sub-brand or even another brand that he or she believed should be used instead of the parent brand. The reasoning was always the same – there is some brand awareness of the local brand, or sub-brand, that would be lost should the focus go to the global brand and the local brand be eliminated, the local brand was more suited to the consumer needs in the target market, and it would be more effective to spend the small, local marketing budget on the local brand, as opposed to the unknown global brand. I have always had difficulty with this logic and believe Korean companies have clearly made the case as to why the global brand should instead be the priority.
At the core of the argument for the global brand is economics. Samsung spent billions of dollars building the Samsung brand over the last decade. Had Samsung instead broken up its brand portfolio and spent a portion of these billions on sub-brands in different markets, it is highly unlikely that this spending would have had the same impact – and it may have confused the consumer, who now travels globally and accesses TV, internet and other media content on a global basis. By focusing on building one brand name consistently, Samsung and the other Korean companies have been able to make tremendous progress in a short time in building their brands worldwide.