Fine strokes & friendship: painting a new image of Korea in multicultural Western countries
On my first trip to Korea, I visited the National Museum of Korea in Seoul, taking in centuries’ worth of accumulated Korean artefacts, records and artworks. Collectively these pieces furnish the minds of visitors with a sense of the depth and uniqueness of Korean culture and history; something I will always remember. However, not everyone will get the opportunity to experience Korea first-hand. Hence the need for organisations like the Center for International Affairs (CEFIA) to promote an accurate image of Korea overseas. Supporting this mission, this essay proposes a strategy to encourage foreigners to experience the true image and beauty of Korea, using multicultural Western nations as a case study. The essay begins by outlining shared cultural and societal characteristics of these Western nations, discussing how these characteristics present unique barriers to and opportunities for the improvement of the image of Korea. The author then offers an innovative strategy, drawing from the well-researched concepts of segmentation and word-of-mouth marketing, to leverage the opportunities peculiar to these Western nations. Overall, this essay’s proposals highlight the effectiveness of strategies that account for shared cultural and societal characteristics when promoting Korea’s image overseas.
Case study: multicultural Western countries (MWCs)
To maximise the effectiveness of its proposals, the scope of this essay is multicultural Western countries, particularly those with a significant population of overseas Koreans. This essay argues improving the image of Korea overseas can be achieved with significantly greater efficiency and effectiveness by limiting the scope of image-improving strategies to populations with shared cultural and societal characteristics. As such, this section draws on research, statistics and lived experience to paint a picture of key, relevant features common amongst multicultural Western countries and highlights how these features present unique opportunities and challenges for image-improvement proposals.
Countries of note within this case study include: the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand. These nations are regularly referred to as ‘Western’ nations, with similarities that include cultural norms, values and social and political systems. These nations have multicultural population groups, and notably each has a significant population of both Korean migrants and descendants. In fact, the nations listed above are home to around 40% of the 7.4 million total overseas Koreans recorded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in 2017. The case study is based on these suitably defining features, and relevant countries will be referred to as MWCs (multicultural Western countries) henceforth.
Opportunities and challenges in MWCs
Identifying common cultural and societal features between nations provides new insight into how image-improvement strategies can overcome barriers and capitalise on opportunities that are unique to these societies. Having defined MWCs, this section will provide analysis on the opportunities and challenges for improving Korea’s image.
Research conducted in the MWCs shows that, due to the multicultural nature of these societies, knowledge of different cultures is increasingly considered a desirable trait. Emmison, a prominent Australian social scientist, in his paper on ‘cultural mobility’ cites research from the UK and the US noting trends in how people ‘consume cultural products’, or in other words: how they choose to engage which cultures to engage with and learn about. Relevant to the work of CEFIA, Emmison notes that many people are likely to possess or aspire toward ‘traits such as flexibility, openness and mobility, a desire and the ability to participate in different social and cultural worlds’. Many people in MWCs have access to the cultures of thriving and diverse migrant communities in their local areas- including that of Korean migrants. This represents an opportunity for image-improvement proposals to leverage existing interest and cultural ‘touchpoints’ with Korean communities in MWCs, to promote the image of Korea abroad.
On the other hand, an underestimated challenge for image-improvement strategies in MWCs is the competition for attention from other nations and cultures represented within multicultural societies. Just as Korea invests in tourism, cultural and language promoting agencies overseas, so too do many other nations. The presence of an array of cultural groups naturally makes it difficult for key messages, aiming for the attention of the general public, to stand out from others. Only prominent items, such as the Korean War or K-pop, may feature in people’s awareness of Korea. Thus an effective image-improvement proposal in MWCs must offer a unique proposal for motivating people to engage specifically and deeply in Korean history, cultural and society, to avoid messages being crowded out. Strategies should also incorporate pathways for people to engage with accurate and interesting materials on Korea, such as those produced by CEFIA and other reputable sources.
Korea’s image-improvement proposal: segmentation and word-of-mouth marketing
Having refined the scope of this strategy to MWCs, this section outlines a proposal for improving the image of Korea that capitalises on this targeted approach. The proposals outlined below combines the insights gained from analysis of MWCs, with the well-researched concepts of segmentation and word-of-mouth marketing. The result is a strategy for improving the image of Korea that has the potential to go further than approaches that do not differentiate between different cultural and societal characteristics.
Segmentation refers to the process of dividing and grouping ‘segments’ of a market in order to recognise each segment’s common characteristics and distinct needs. This process aids tailoring messages for each segment, and supports organisations to gain a competitive advantage in reaching their audience. As such, segmentation of the audience for Korean materials (foreigners) can help overcome the challenge of competition between cultures vying for public interest in MWCs.
To capitalise on the opportunities for image-improvement in MWCs, it is proposed that audiences within MWCs be segmented according to their level of engagement with Korea- high, mid and low engagement. It is reasonable to assume that in any MWC, people will have varying degrees of interest and exposure to information about Korean culture, history and society, particularly because of multiculturalism. Based on the analysis of MWCs in the previous section and reasonable assumptions, the shared characteristics of these segments are summarised below:
By segmenting the target audience in MWCs, it becomes immediately clear that each segment will logically have different characteristics that are pertinent to strategies for promoting the image of Korea. These relevant characteristics are summarised below:
Korea to promote the country’s culture, history and society to people who have low levels of engagement with Korea. Examples of word-of-mouth marketing strategies for the improvement of Korea’s image are:
• Preparation of materials for Korean and non-Korean people to have conversations with people that introduce facts about Korea to low engaged people
• Korean cultural events that incentivise attendees to bring a friend, or supporting Korean restaurants, businesses or community groups who promote the image of Korea in their local community
• Competitions in which people post videos on social media of them introducing aspects of Korean culture or society- using CEFIA materials- to friends, family, school or the wider community (prizes can be awarded for creativity and the number of people reached)
These are just a sample of strategies that have a high likelihood of success of MWCs. This is because these strategies overcome barriers to reaching people with Korea-related information, and take advantage of the opportunities represented by a large number of people engaged with Korea within these countries.
Ultimately, the key message of this proposal is that while universal strategies are necessary, such measures reach their limitations quickly. To promote the image of Korea to a greater proportion of those living overseas, it is necessary to refine strategies to specific regions or on the basis of shared cultural/societal characteristics. Through case study analysis of multicultural Western nations, this essay demonstrates the strength of this approach and its potential to reach beyond undifferentiated strategies. Like the blooming flowers portrayed in the Joseon Dynasty art that adorns the wall of the National Museum of Korea, this essay recognises that finer paint strokes give an image its full vibrancy. So too, rather than painting all foreigners with a broad brush, this proposal draws from established research and lived experience to acknowledge differences between societies and individuals. These insights can be used to ensure that even those foreigners who will not have the privilege of walking the halls of the National Museum or seeing the sunrise over the East Sea may still behold a dynamic and vibrant image of Korea.
- Emmison, M 2003, ‘Social class and cultural mobility: reconfiguring the cultural omnivore thesis’, Journal of Sociology, vol. 39, no. 3, pp. 211-230.
- Harper, T 2011, Dialogues in urban and regional planning, Taylor & Francis.
- Huntington, S 2011, The clash of civilizations and the remaking of world order, Simon and Schuster, New Jersey.
- Pride, W, Ferrell, O., Lukas, B., Schembri, S, Niininen, O & Cassidy, R 2018, Marketing Principles, 3rd edn, Cengage, Australia.
- Republic of Korea Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade 2017, 재외동포현황 총계 Total number of overseas Koreans, viewed June 30 2018, <http://www.index.go.kr/potal/main/EachDtlPageDetail.do?idx_cd=1682>.
Justin Edward O’Connor
(Country of Activity : Australia)