Saturday, October 28, 2006

Gimci, Nicolas Cage, and WOM Marketing in South Korea

This dispatch comes from Seoul, South Korea. I have been here for the past few days at the invitation of Ms. Inus Hwang, CEO of Advantage Marketing Lab and founder of, an online community dedicated to Korean housewives (currently there are about 600,000 members). I met Ms. Hwang last year at the 1st International WOM Marketing Conference in Hamburg, Germany. Since that time they have changed their name from Azoomma Marketing Lab to Advantage Marketing Lab as they broaden their WOM marketing program offerings for other products and services beyond Korean housewives.

For this trip I was invited to speak at the 3rd Annual Korean WOM Marketing Conference, which took place on Thursday. There were over 100 brand managers, press, and academics in attendance at the event. Apparently Seth Godin's book Purple Cow has been pretty popular here, and more and more companies are beginning to use WOM marketing techniques (see this article from the European magazine, Infomag, for a brief overview of the media and marketing landscape in South Korea including how WOM, buzz, and community marketing are being used [note that the article confuses terminology quite a bit]). There are a few other WOM firms in the country now, and at least two are WOMMA members. Additionally, about two weeks ago, there was a big article in a Korean newspaper about the Net Promoter Score, which was the first introduction to the metric for a lot of companies in South Korea.

The title of my talk was "Will the Real Word-of-Mouth Marketing Please Stand Up?". In my presentation I discussed five common misunderstandings that people have of WOM marketing:

Misunderstanding #1: WOM Marketing = Buzz Marketing = Viral Marketing (confusion about terminology and thinking that buzz and viral marketing represent the only forms of WOM marketing)
Misunderstanding #2: WOM Works Best in Stealth Mode (there have already been cases here of stealth marketing)
Misunderstanding #3: WOM Is Only Used for Launching New Products and Services (this is partially related to Misunderstanding #1 in that companies tend to focus on the shorter-term WOM strategies rather than the longer-term principles and techniques, such as community, evangelist, and grassroots marketing)
Misunderstanding #4: WOM Versus Advertising (the sense is that if you do WOM marketing you don't also use advertising or vice versa)
Misunderstanding #5: WOM Cannot Be Measured (here I discussed a number of differnt ways firms are measuring WOM marketing programs and ROI)
While in Korea I also learned a great deal about the culture, people, and cuisine. In terms of cuisine, for example, I have learned to appreciate Gimci, which is fermented vegetables and a staple of Korean meals. The sequencing of foods that are eaten is also very smart (for example, eating noodles or rice after meat, followed by tea, really helps to settle the stomach). My Korean vocabulary now stands at about 10 words (hello, thank you, nice to meet you, good bye, etc.). I learned about "bang culture" which is where there are a number of public rooms devoted to PC gaming, DVD viewing, conversations, and singing (see the recent article in the New York Sunday times on PC bangs; bang literally means "room"). I have also learned that many people in Korea think I look like Nicolas Cage (I guess I should take that as a compliment!).

Ms. Hwang and her staff at Advantage Marketing Lab have been wonderful hosts and it has been a memorable experience for me. Hopefully I will have the chance to visit again soon!