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Small Business

What Marketers Can Learn From K-Pop

August 14, 2020
K-Pop merch: books, magazines, notebooks, and figurine

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How to create the biggest fans and brand

I don’t think many people are unaware of the world-wide following Korean Pop Music has gained the past few years. Ever since the big hit, Gangham Style by Psy, “K-Pop” has slowly snowballed in popularity.

And I’m one of the die-hard k-pop “stans” (current slang for a fan for anyone new to the internet).

As a business owner who spends a lot of time thinking about marketing (and having worked in the advertising industry), I’ve learned a lot from K-Pop. Marketers and business owners should take notice. Here are my top 3 lessons.

Always Delight Your Audience

In my time diving into the world of K-Pop, I have been struck by how they never fail to take an opportunity to delight their audience.

Take this interview BTS had with Stephen Colbert. Each member introduces themselves with similar glee. If you don’t know anything about BTS and were introduced to them from this video, you’ll probably want to know them now- especially J-Hope who lives for the camera.

They don’t stop there. When Colbert asks what their favorite Beatles song is, they all break out singing “Hey Jude” with the audience.

This isn’t unusual. Most K-pop groups seem to have endless videos of interviews, tv appearances, and concert footage. Groups are expected to regularly make appearances on tv. While they’re treated like stars and held to high standards, they always seem to act “just like us”.

It’s not only tv appearances they turn on the charm. Being a fan of a k-pop group earns you a name. You’re not a BTS fan, you’re army. You’re not a Twice fan, you’re once. You’re now part of a community.

Purchasing an album is its own event. In an age of Spotify (and before that, torrents) I haven’t purchased a CD since high school. Yet, in Korea, album sales remain strong.

Its no wonder why. Check out this Red Velvet album and imagine the absolute delight I had when opening it the first time. I was surprised by the many intricate details in the box itself, entranced by the numerous swag stored in the box, and mesmerized by the gorgeous photo book. Its an album I show to friends and family.

Red Velvet’s album unboxing

Red Velvet’s “The ReVe Festival” album. There’s a photo book, an envelope with digital coupons, “signed” photocards, a poster, and gorgeous illustration inside and out the box.

Business owners can learn a lot about packaging and product development from these albums. People collect them just for the experience of opening them.

Be a Bigger Fan Of Your Fans Than Your Fans are of You

Let’s go back to that interview with Colbert above. When asked if BTS is comfortable with the level of passion their fans have, they only respond with worshipful love for their fans. Most idols behave happily and enthusiastically to be in their positions.

You can argue that its an act, carefully crafted, or maybe it’s genuine. Either way, it works. And idols (K-Pop artists) are expected to have this passion. BTS’ rise to fame was in part due to their active engagement with fans on Twitter. They even got their own Twitter emoji.

Idols regularly live stream on various apps like Weverse and V Live. Half of the work idols do is nurturing their connections with fans. They are constantly making appearances on and offline, releasing teasers, trailers, and other content.

Your fans will only love you a percentage of the love you have for them.

If you give them 50%, you’re lucky to get 25% back. Kpop record labels know this and set the bar high.

And the fans reward this with endless user-generated content: fan-fiction, Twitter gifs, art, and remixes on youtube. There’s an entire ecosystem created from mutual love between idols and fans’.

Stay Humble, Collaborate, and Create the Best Product Possible

We cannot forget the great product K-pop groups produce. It may only be pop music but K-pop is a production. Idols train for years as trainees to sing and dance before being chosen and placed in groups. The rigorous training and rules they follow borders on being unfair.

One of the most fun parts fans have when getting into k-pop is watching all the music videos, dance practices, and live performances with complex dance routines.

K-pop’s collaborations with American R&B songwriters are well-known and been the origin of the many, many hit songs. Its this collaboration some argue that propelled the genre’s quality.

The secret sauce is clear: collaborate and create the best product possible. Whether its a dance, performance, or music video- make it the best. This inherently requires humility: humility to continue pushing your limits and work with others.

A Recap: What Makes K-Pop Great?

It’s the whole experience that values you as a fan. It’s beyond the songs that are crafted with collaboration and performance in mind. It’s the classic message marketer’s hear constantly: serve your audience but taken to a complete 100% and then some.

I personally liken K-pop to an anti-depressant in my life. It is so happy, vibrant, and wholesome. It fully embraces what it is and fans embrace it back.

Be a brand that embraces all that it is and the people it serves.

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