Mihaylo Marketing Professor Steven Chen researches product innovation and transnational popular culture. He discusses his new study on the global spread of Korean popular music.
How do marketers export a product to overseas consumers that may not understand the same language? In today’s globalized economy, this is a question increasingly asked of today’s marketing professionals.
While transnational enterprises have exported largely uniform products and services worldwide for decades, a newer trend of differentiating products to appeal to diverse global consumers has emerged. This has permitted concepts developed in not only the traditional industrialized countries of North America and Europe but also emerging economies in Asia, Latin America and elsewhere to develop a global following.
What Does This Have to Do With KPop?
Mihaylo Marketing Professor Steven Chen examined the strategies used to disseminate products by studying the global spread of Korean popular music, known as KPop. Named South Korea’s greatest export by Time magazine in 2012, the genre is popular throughout Asia, but also in Latin America, the United States and Western Europe. His study, in the journal International Marketing Review, involved a content analysis of 314 news articles on the allkpop.com website.
“My study was motivated by my personal interest in KPop, which is characterized by a plethora of boy band and girl band groups,” Chen says. “It is like One Direction multiplied many times over.”
Chen discovered that there are three strategies that music labels can adopt. One is to export the cultural product to foreign markets with little or no modification, perhaps even selling a CD in the same packaging. A second strategy is to collaborate with local talent, an avenue that Chen notes the South Korean band Bangtan Boys (BTS) used in their partnership with Vietnamese pop star Thanh Bui in reaching that country’s market. The third strategy is to pursue joint ventures to produce perfect localization.
“Joint ventures are a very savvy way to penetrate global markets,” he says. “The 12-member band EXO has actually used two six-member units to simultaneously produce music intended for Korean and Mandarin Chinese markets, a strategy not seen elsewhere in the music world.” For example, EXO’s song “Miracles in December” is available on YouTube in both Korean and Mandarin versions performed by the respective band units.
What Can Marketing Students Gain from this Study?
Chen, who earned his undergraduate degree in studio arts and Ph.D. degree in management from UC Irvine, had both entertainment professionals and students in mind as he conducted his research. “Marketers of cultural products such as music, art or film can use the framework developed in the paper to better penetrate international markets,” he says.
“Students of international and global marketing also have much to gain,” he notes. “Current classes focus on ‘textbook’ modes of global entry that apply to durable consumer products. Non-tangible cultural products such as music pose particular challenges because consumers may not understand the language, which is vital in disseminating these products. This research study identifies ways to market these types of cultural products to international audiences.”
In an increasingly media-centric world, it is important for marketers to take the time to craft the right message and to position their products in a way that makes sense for specific cultures. Otherwise, marketers may be left with a lot of product sitting on the shelf. KPop is an international phenomenon, but its success is also the result of smart cross-cultural marketing that took into account how different groups of people would most likely be able to access its particular style of music.
For more on Mihaylo’s marketing programs, visit the Department of Marketing online or at SGMH 5214. For more on the college’s international programs, including business-focused study abroad opportunities in Europe and Asia, visit Mihaylo Global online or at SGMH 3357.