Monday, January 31, 2011

Korea's USP

Mike Hurt, one of the big-name superbloggers in Korea, has written a thought-provoking post about Korea's continued failure to market itself to the world as a viable tourist destination. He talks about the navel-gazing habit that Koreans have when it comes to this problem: far from actually consulting with foreigners about Korea's appeal, the marketing gurus seem content to make up ideas on their own. Mike likens this, at one point, to a group of men trying to design brassieres without ever consulting any women. I think it's a good analogy.*

Mike offers a truly interesting insight: Korea's appeal, its Unique Selling Proposition (USP), lies not so much in all the things that Koreans themselves like to trumpet-- the standard litany of temples, technologies, tastes, and treasures-- but in something a bit more abstract: experience. What is it about Korea, what "sticky" factor, to use Mike's terminology, keeps foreigners coming back, and impels them to stay in Korea for years? Mike doesn't say exactly what that is, but his point is that that's the area Koreans need to explore if they truly want to market their country to foreigners.

I think Mike's right, but if we're to take the idea of experience seriously as a marketable commodity, we'd need to compare expat experiences in Korea to those in China, Japan and Vietnam, three of the countries mentioned in Mike's piece. How do expats view those countries? How "sticky" are their cultures? Do most US and European tourists come away from China saying (as some tourists say about New York City), "It's a great place to visit, but I wouldn't wanna live there"? Does that apply equally well to Japan and Vietnam? How big are the expat populations in those countries, in terms of raw numbers and percentages of the total populations? How long do expats stay in those countries, and what percentage of expat "veterans" return to those countries for another long-term stay after an absence?

I don't say any of this to cast doubt on Mike's insights; I truly think he's on to something. But "experience" is a word that begs to be unpacked, and from a marketing perspective, it has to be unpacked in a way that can be articulated in videos, brochures, and other media.

Because the topic was so interesting, I added a short comment to the end of Mike's fine post, and I encourage you to go visit and add thoughts of your own.

*In fact, it's more than an analogy: some years ago-- and I imagine this would be old news among medical insiders-- we learned that researchers in the male-dominated field of cardiology had spent years studying heart disease without seriously contemplating the idea that women's heart issues might differ from men's issues in important ways. Many recommendations made to women were based on trials done on men, sometimes with disastrous results for the women. The past decade or so has seen researchers scrambling to make up for lost time in this area. My point, though, is that this sort of thing actually happens all the time, and not just in Korea: people often think stuff up for a target group without consulting that group.



Charles said...

Haven't read the post yet, but I think you bring up a very valid point with the "It's a great place to visit, but I wouldn't wanna live there" line. (Incidentally, I would totally live in NYC if I could get a decent job there.)

The experiences of long-term foreign residents may not be the best indicator of Korea's sticky factor. That is, what causes some people to stay in Korea for significantly long periods of time may not be the same things that would attract short-term tourists. In fact, I would be very much surprised if they were. So I don't know if looking for tourism strategies in long-term expat experiences is the best approach.

I do however, think it is ridiculous that foreigners here are not utilized enough (or at all?) when it comes to developing marketing strategies for the tourism industry.

(I may feel differently after reading the post, but that will have to wait... lunch time is over!)

Kevin Kim said...

You might want to talk to Park Seong-bae at SUNY Stony Brook. I thought about doing a PhD there at one point, but I wouldn't have been able to select Buddhist Studies as my major; I would have had to do my work through either the Philo Dept. or the Literature Dept.

Given your area of expertise, I could see you having a ball at SUNY Stony Brook. But if you were in their Lit Department, you'd have to watch out for all the profs who are into PoMo and Continental philosophy. Which is almost everyone, if I remember the online faculty write-ups correctly.

Dr. Park himself is way cool. Like Robert Buswell, he's a former monk. He joked to me that he and Buswell come from "rival schools of thought" in Korean Buddhism.

Charles said...

Wow. Just goes to show you how up to date I am on New York schools. I was thinking, "Well, yeah, Stony Brook is great and all, but it's on Long Island." I had no idea they have a campus in Manhattan now.

Still, I was thinking something more along the lines of Asian Studies, and maybe Columbia instead of Stony Brook. All pipe dreams at the moment, though--once I have to face reality (i.e., post-diss) I may take a different path. Who knows? It's always good to be open to options.

Kevin Kim said...

I don't know if they have a Manhattan campus, but it's not really that long of a haul from Stony Brook to Manhattan, is it? Not with that rail system in place.

...OK, it's 45 miles from Stony Brook main campus to Central Park, according to the all-seeing, all-knowing Google Maps ruler. I've been to Stony Brook only once, and remember it being a pleasant ride by rail to the campus, but I guess I didn't remember how long the ride would have taken. Still, it's not as though Manhattan would be totally out of reach were you to base yourself on Long Island (or do natives say "at Long Island"?).

Oh, yeah-- I meant to say, earlier, that I agree with you re: separating out the questions of Korea's appeal to long-term expats and its appeal to tourists. I might be reading too much into Mike's post, but I suspect he'd say that the two questions, while distinct, are related: surely some of what appeals to expats, experientially speaking, would appeal to tourists who plan on spending a couple weeks on the peninsula.

Charles said...

Stony Brook does in fact have a Manhattan campus--it opened up in 2002 (thank you Wikipedia!).

It's not the fact that Stony Brook is necessarily so far from Manhattan, it's just that the idea of working in Lawn Guy Land and living in the city is weird. Usually it's the other way around, and I imagine that if I were to somehow end up at the main Stony Brook campus, I'd probably live somewhere nearby rather than in the city--and I'm really not super keen on returning to the island.

But, like I said, all options are still open. I suspect that I'm going to end up having to jump at rare opportunities rather than being able to pick and choose.

As for Mike's post, I finally did read it, and I think he makes some good points, especially when he says that no one cares about the sort of things Korea tries to hype. I also agree that Korea should not try to take on her "opponents" in their areas of strength, and I think he has some keen insight on Koreans' perceptions of foreigners. And now, after actually reading his post, I can see what he's saying in terms of experiences (in fact, he only mentions long-term expats here briefly, so I may have read too much into that). All very interesting stuff, and food for thought.