Gabey Goh
Mar 30, 2016

Can tech-savvy South Korea keep up with the pace of change?

ON THE GROUND - KOREA: Even in tech-savvy Korea, businesses are struggling to keep pace with the media habits and expectations of their customers, putting increasing pressure on agencies.

Can tech-savvy South Korea keep up with the pace of change?

For Mirae Asset, an independent financial services group headquartered in Seoul, South Korea, having a deep understanding of consumer behaviour in the online and mobile space and communicating effectively has become a critical business need.

“If we cannot understand our client’s behaviour fully or if we cannot find an effective channel or method to promote our products and services, it is unlikely we will compete successfully against our peers,” said Jiyeon Yun, brand manager at Mirae Asset.

It is a challenge that the finance brand fully expects its agency partners to help solve, for while the team members at Mirae Asset are professionals in their field, with US$75 billion in assets under management, they are not experts in mobile services.

“For example, we need skills to plan and run online/mobile campaigns using social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn,” she said. “Campaigns on social networks are very interesting in that we can read target clients’ responses instantly and evaluate the effectiveness of the campaign. How can we receive positive responses from our target audience and deliver them a good brand image? How can we maintain a close relationship with our clients?”

This focus on mobile reflects the long-standing reputation South Korea has as a tech-forward nation, but the pace of change has businesses struggling to catch up with consumers, who are driving growth in areas such as e-commerce and mobile.

Agency catchup

GroupM Korea CEO Seon Cho said that online advertising has a 20-year-old history, in the country with many marketers both familiar and in tune with the space.

But that doesn’t mean that they are content with staying on familiar ground, as the nation’s marketers are always looking for and demanding new and effective media for their campaigns.

He reports that there have been “dramatic changes” in online advertising, with search and display ads decreasing while media usage such as mobile, video, DSP/DMP, and personal media are rapidly growing.

“In particular, the accuracy of audience targeting are of upmost interest to our customers,” Cho added.

He said that product development is also playing an important and growing role in the advertising business.

“This also includes data and analytics where you need good people who can breakdown all these data and turn them into great insights that would help campaigns,” Cho added.

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Marketers are investing great effort to ensure they have a successful campaign, he said, adding that lately web and mobile video ads have been a hit with clients.

“But I have to admit that the Korean market is still a step behind other markets,” he added.

That step behind is making things tricky for Mirae Asset, with Yun admitting that it’s not easy to find an agency in Korea that can provide a satisfying resolution to these issues.

“This is probably because the online/mobile market is quite new,” she added. “We hope we will be able to find partners whose ideas are brilliant and outstanding.”

The need to better navigate a mobile landscape will also necessitate a change in the how the finance brand works with its agencies.

“I think our relationships with agencies would also significantly change,” said Yun. “We are looking for an agency which has a specialty in their field (e.g. mobile communication), and I really think we need a closer partnership with them.”

Agencies are racing to keep up with the brand demands and consumer realities, Kyunghee Lee, client service director at BBDO Korea said, but the rate of change is proving challenging.

“The media environment has changed," she said. "There’s no longer a clear delineation between ATL or BTL efforts. Revenue from media commissions has gone down as brands shift away from traditional media to digital channels.”

She shared that one change in the agency-client business model is the move toward project-based assignments and hourly rates for work done, which was implemented at BBDO in 2010.

“So whether or not a campaign is executed, we will charge based on hours spent working on a project,” Lee added. “This has meant that clarity and objectives are established from the start of any project as clients will think twice or thrice about changing their minds halfway through.”

Sanghoon Lee, The Cream Union’s media group director, noted that grappling with rapid change starts with a true understanding of the changes brought to the user experience and not the changes brought to the marketing platform itself.

“Therefore as a marketer, it is important to first go over the question of ‘what kind of changes must be made’ by precisely interpreting the hidden changes in the user experience.” he added. “Forego the question of ‘when does everything have to change’ in regards to digital and social-media trends.”

Korea today, tomorrow the world

MinJeon Rhee

“Korean brands are under pressure from all sides,” BBDO’s Lee said. “Consumer brands especially also face competition from other markets. Thanks to the rise of e-commerce, Korean shoppers no longer have to rely on local brands and now go online to buy from the US or UK for better deals.”

But while Korean consumers are looking beyond their own borders, so are Korean brands, with cosmetics giant AmorePacific being one of them.

The company owns popular brands such as Hera, IOPE, Laneige, Innisfree and Etude House and recorded approximately US$4.9 billion in global sales in 2015.

MinJeon Rhee, head of the marketing-strategy unit and executive vice president at AmorePacific, said that while the company enjoys a healthy presence in Asia, it seeks to grow beyond the region to cover North America, South America and the Middle East.

To achieve this goal, it has been strategic with how it introduces brands to markets, focusing on five “champion brands” which cover the spectrum from luxury to mass-market segments.

The company works with both local and global agencies for diverse marketing activities and was unable to share a detailed breakdown of agencies on roster across its brand portfolio.

Rhee said that key to the AmorePacific’s expansion is localisation and market insight, with continuous research into local beauty culture and skin conditions to provide relevant product and services.

Laneige 'Beauty Mirror' App

The company is executing growth ambitions amidst intensifying competition thanks to a sharp increase of global and local cosmetic brands but believes innovation is its weapon in staying ahead of the game.

One example is the brand’s use of mobile, with a focus on engaging digital content and adopting advanced mobile technology. According to Statistics Korea, mobile purchases of cosmetic products increased 67 per cent YoY in December 2015.

The company released a Laneige ‘Beauty Mirror’ app in September 2015, which enabled users to virtually try on the brand’s makeup products. It also has an e-commerce feature, allowing consumers to buy the products online.

The app, touted as the first to feature mirroring technology in Korea, recognises detailed facial movements on a real time basis and projects a 3D image to simulate how a makeup product will look on a person’s face.

See also: CASE STUDY: How AmorePacific created space for Cushion

The cosmetics giant’s focus for 2016 is retail and customer experiences, prioritising the ‘shopping’ aspect rather than simply ‘consuming’.

“For today’s consumers, ‘how to buy’ influences purchase decisions as strongly as ‘what/why to buy’, said Rhee. “AmorePacific will upgrade and refine various retail elements such as store locations and layouts, product portfolio and display, O2O and customer services.”

Jiyeon Yun

Mirae Asset is also turning its attention to the global stage, with Yun sharing that overseas fund sales are rapidly surging.

The company launched its first overseas office in Hong Kong in 2003 and now has more than 10 offices outside Korea, selling products in more than 30 countries.

“All this suggests that we should change how we work, and that we should consider overseas clients more than before,” said Yun. “Because we are no longer just a Korean domestic brand.”

In 2015, the company ran its first international digital campaign with Google and LinkedIn, and reported “very satisfying results”. That same year also saw the company undergo a rebranding.

“When we decided to renew our visual identity, we hired an international branding agency as their global network is a big advantage to us,” said Yun. “As we expand our business outside Korea, I think we will encounter more chances to work with international agencies.”

Content in creativity

With the media game changing, so has the approach agencies and brands must take when it comes to the content that gets distributed.

Mirae Asset’s Yun shared that the company is active in producing content in line with educating Koreans on finance topics such as retirement investment strategies, having established the Mirae Asset Retirement Institute in 2004. The marketing team delivers content from the research institute to clients or extend invitations to the institute’s seminars to listen to researchers’ speeches.

“Of course, agencies also help us enable all these activities,” she said. “They help us understand our clients’ new needs better, and give us ideas on how to gain our clients’ attention and how to maintain a close relationship with them.”

The Cream Union’s Lee said that the market is moving away from advertising and inching closer to digital content.

“We are now in an age where the user has secured the role as the sole leader in media with a strong network as a base,” he added. “Ads are now, just like enjoying a regular TV program, moving towards content that is fun, beneficial, and valuable so that users repeatedly view while they actively enjoy exploring content.”

Lee reported the advent of innovative technologies has enabled the agency to put together initiatives and provide users “a fun and interesting brand experience that wasn’t seen before.”

Kyunghee Lee

“We believe it is more important to have creativity that provides never-before-had experiences, or creativity that solves issues with new marketing methods by combining it with new technology and innovation,” he added.

BBDO’s Lee said that connecting with audiences by addressing issues and concerns they care most about needs to be a priority.

“Not only must brands change the way they go to market but also be mindful of a new breed of influencers thanks to social media,” she added. “The technology may be changing fast, but in the end it’s about people and knowing their mind.”

The agency is actively looking to fill its ranks with non-traditional advertising roles, instead of copywriters, the creative team is looking for professionals such as broadcast producers and digital editors.

“We’re looking for creators, not just people able to create television commercials,” she said. “We’ve been hiring quite a bit from media organisations; for example we recently welcomed a former editor of Elle magazine Korea to our team.”


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