Coca-Cola Korea

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At Coca-Cola we met with the Korean public affairs and communications director and corporate communication manager and had a surprise visit from the CFO for Coca-Cola mainland Asia. The Korean snapshot that is the company’s starting point for public relations is that you must know Korea to do business. The country has a population of 50.2 million, an average age of 39.7 and is the 15th largest economy in the world. Collectively, the Korean culture maintains contemporary Confucian values thus affecting the overall way of life and social relations. As the fastest aging population in the world, Coca-Cola is facing the challenge of developing products geared for the aging older generation and the progressive younger generation.

With 37 million smart phone users in the country, the company also considers the smaller households and the changing lifestyles and consumption patterns when marketing products in the country. Korean executives at Coca-Cola explained that the way in which urban lifestyles are being revolutionized by technology, their focus as a company is on the rising value of meaning and purpose among the youth as it is centered on “look and feel”.

Coca-Cola in Korea utilizes a global engagement program that employs power bloggers as they are thought to be the most effective source of marketing in Asia. It was explained to us that in Korea, power bloggers are a way to foster strong relationships with influencers and they are able to provide information about new products being launched. The public engagement program was initiated in 2008 and was originally seen as a way to calculate bloggers activities, followings, and determine the overall power that they had in social media.

Coca-Cola Korea develops relationships with influential bloggers, making them feel like part of the “team”, and therefore creating a unique experience for them as brand ambassadors. Social media influencers set the agenda for advertising, yet the biggest focus was nurturing relationships and creating an emotional connection between people and the brand. The biggest difference I noticed, as this is not a new concept, was that there seemed to be a greater emphasis on the relationships with people.

Building relationships doesn’t stop with external stakeholders. The company has an Ambassador program which is a global team developed in conjunction with power bloggers that utilizes social media as a platform to promote participant interests in the brand. That being said, it was interesting to hear about this from the Korean office as the country is not culturally one to boast or act proud about anything. The program also integrates internal employees into being brand ambassadors as a way to drive employee engagement. There are under 100 employees in the Korea office, so the “relationships are pretty close around here”, as was explained by the communications manager.

As the world’s largest beverage company, worth around 79.2 billion, Coca-Cola maintains its original values and successfully does so internationally. The brand has created a value and a relationship with its stakeholders and made itself adaptable to local culture in several countries. We were shown the line of products here, which are made much smaller than in the United States, and show the strategy behind marketing to consumers in Korea. To localize products and the brand, fundamental strategies and global guidelines are altered to accommodate cultural demands. In addition to adapting products, when there is a problem or a question raised in Korea, the global guidelines that exist within Coca-Cola are revised to fit the “Korean way”. For example, instead of directly responding to an issue or question with “I’m not sure, but here is the contact information for someone that might be able to help you.” This response would be considered rude and impolite by referring them to someone else. It is proper to find out the answer, through whatever channels and then respond to them personally.

The Korean culture certainly has unique cultural traits that contribute to their successful emotional branding and stakeholder engagement. It’s interesting to keep noticing similarities and differences between how they handle brand management and how the United States does. It will be exciting to continue to compare notes as we meet with public relations and communications professionals in different industries.

*statistics from presentation at Coca-Cola Korea*

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