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Why Global Firms Struggle with Marketing in Korea


At Growth Marketing Agency, we work with both Korean and international companies, and we’ve observed a common trend: even renowned global corporations often struggle with marketing in Korea. If you’re considering entering the Korean market or looking to improve your current performance, understanding these challenges is crucial for your success.

Key Challenges in Marketing in Korea

1. Lack of Understanding of the Korean Market’s Unique Characteristics

One of the biggest issues for global companies is their failure to understand the unique aspects of the South Korean market. Many global companies view South Korea merely as part of the broader Asian market, overlooking its distinct digital ecosystem.

The Landscape of the South Korean Market in the 2020s
The Landscape of the South Korean Market in the 2020s

For instance, Naver (a local search engine) and KakaoTalk (a messaging app) are dominant platforms in Korea, yet many global marketing teams focus solely on global platforms like Google and Facebook. Without recognizing the importance of these local platforms, simply allocating a “translation budget” won’t suffice for success in South Korea.

2. Absence of Localized Marketing Strategies

Another major issue is the lack of localized strategies. Many global companies attempt to apply their headquarters’ marketing strategies directly to the Korean market, which is ineffective.
For example, while many global firms emphasize LinkedIn, most Koreans don’t use it.

Remember App for B2B Marketing in Korea
Remember App: Business Card Management

To achieve similar results, utilizing local platforms like Remember, a business card management service, would be more for B2B marketing in Korea. Remember is a crucial marketing channel in South Korea but unfamiliar to many global companies.

3. Lack of Competence and Authority Among Local Marketers

The third problem is the lack of competence and authority among local marketers. In many cases, marketers at Korean branches are merely seen as communication liaisons with good English skills rather than marketing professionals. They often lack substantial marketing expertise and struggle to bridge the gap between headquarters and the local market.

A common scenario is junior marketers working alone without senior guidance. Moreover, they’re often not given the authority to develop and implement independent marketing strategies, hindering their ability to respond quickly to local market changes.

4. Communication Issues Between Headquarters and Local Branches

The fourth problem is communication issues between headquarters and local branches. Decision-makers at headquarters often make choices without understanding the Korean market’s nuances, while local branch opinions are frequently overlooked.

Key Challenges in Marketing in Korea - Communication Issues Between Headquarters and Local Branches

It’s common for new proposals to go without feedback for 3-4 days due to time differences or staff vacations, and even minor decisions can take 2-3 weeks. The resulting decisions often disregard input from the South Korean branch.

This disconnect leads to frustration and demotivation among local marketers, often resulting in high turnover and loss of talent.

5. Lack of Continuity Due to High Turnover

The fifth problem is a lack of continuity due to high turnover. In our experience with one client, the point of contact changed seven times over five years. While some changes were due to maternity leave or sabbaticals, the frequency of turnovers among marketing staff at global companies’ South Korean branches is concerning.

These frequent changes disrupt marketing strategy continuity and result in a loss of accumulated knowledge and experience. Each time a new representative comes on board, you have to start from scratch, making it hard to maintain effective marketing efforts.

6. Insufficient Budget Allocation

The sixth problem is insufficient budget allocation. Compared to larger markets like China, South Korea is often perceived as a smaller market and doesn’t receive adequate budget allocation.

For instance, the Chinese market receives substantial budget allocations due to its size and high revenue potential, whereas expectations for the Korean market are comparatively lower. This limited budget makes it difficult for local marketers to be proactive, even if they are motivated.

Overcoming Challenges in Marketing in Korea – Localization and Empowerment

So, how can these challenges be addressed?

First, invest time and resources in understanding the unique characteristics of the Korean digital landscape. Develop localized marketing strategies that leverage popular local platforms such as Naver, KakaoTalk, and Remember.

Second, empower your local marketing team with decision-making authority. Trust their insights and allow them to lead strategy development and execution, as they understand the nuances of the Korean market best.

Global companies' strategies for successful marketing in Korea

Third, build a strong local team by hiring marketing professionals with genuine expertise in the Korean market, or partnering with experienced local agencies like Growth Marketing Agency. Look beyond English language skills and prioritize candidates with deep knowledge of Korean consumer behavior and marketing trends.

Fifth, establish efficient communication channels between your headquarters and the Korean branch. This step is crucial to reduce time delays and ensure that local insights are properly considered in your decision-making processes. Regular meetings and reports can help convey the local market’s situation to headquarters accurately.

Sixth, build a compelling case for the Korean market within your organization. To secure sufficient budget allocation, present concrete data on market size, growth potential, and consumer behavior.

At Growth Marketing Agency, we can help you gather this data and craft a persuasive narrative to convince your leadership of the immense potential the Korean market holds for your brand.

Conclusion: Balancing Global Standards with Localization for Successful Marketing in Korea

Success in marketing in Korea requires a delicate balance between maintaining your global brand standards and adapting to local market specifics. This means preserving your core brand identity and key messages while tailoring your approach to resonate with Korean consumers.

To achieve this balance, foster close cooperation between your headquarters and the Korean branch. Encourage mutual understanding and respect, ensuring both teams work cohesively towards common goals.

Additionally, collaborating with experts from Growth Marketing Agency can be highly beneficial. Our experts can effectively persuade global headquarters and advocate for the South Korean market’s unique conditions. In particular, our team members who are native English speakers and fluent in Korean can facilitate smooth communication, significantly aiding in convincing global headquarters.

Ultimately, success in South Korea starts with a profound respect for and understanding of the local market, coupled with appropriate resource allocation. By recognizing the unique characteristics of the Korean market, developing tailored strategies, and providing your local team with sufficient budget and authority, your company can achieve remarkable success in this dynamic and lucrative market. 

At Growth Marketing Agency, we’re here to guide you through this process and help you unlock the full potential of the Korean market.

Nisrine Nouri GP - Content Specialist

Nisrine Nouri GP - Content Specialist

Morocco-born, Korea-conquering content specialist. Nisrine's marketing magic speaks four languages, but her results need no translation.

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