Destination Branding

Globalization has created a competitive world where establishing a sense of relevance and commanding attention to a brand is key. Countries and cities must market themselves much like a product or service would to create value and a unique image that makes a destination stand out to tourists. Peter Kim, the international brand manager at Seoul City Hall, explained that positioning the city as a place with high experiential value is the principal strategy used by city hall international marketing.

Seoul aims to attract more international visitors, rather than locals. The budget has been increased 8 times since 2008 for marketing and advertising, which is when Seoul began create the dynamic country image of an “unlimited pleasure city”. People know about Seoul, but what makes what makes the country special is that it is one with 24 hours of lights, sights, and sounds. The target countries are China, Japan (which make up 50% of annual visitors), and some of SE Asia including Singapore and Taiwan. Marketing to the United States and Europe are secondary due to the distance and it is believed that they do not really “know” about Seoul.

The city of Seoul is indeed full of numerous and unique experiences. The 24 hours of markets and restaurants offers a dynamic perspective on the population and culture. As the main elements for branding the cities experiences, Seoul also has formed partnerships and gained sponsorships from some big name global “brands” such as Manchester United for example. Slogans for the city of Seoul have included : “Seoul of Asia” (2008), “Infinitely yours” (2009), “Seoul mate” (2012). The goal is not to use quantifiable terminology that would not define size or population of the city, but rather use words that contribute to building a friendly image and raise awareness about Seoul.

Since 2009, Seoul has used K-pop stars and popularity to promote Seoul. That was also the year that online communication became the main platform for promotional material and participative marketing. Psy is revered as not only an icon of Seoul, but as the principal brand image of the city. Following budget cuts, there is a stronger focus on SNS and media marketing due to cost. A collaborative video was created by gathering clips about Seoul from YouTube and then combined into a documentary, then later used as a promotional item.

The efforts of international marketing team at Seoul City Hall seem to be employing elements of best practices for destination branding. With K-pop being a unique element of Korean culture, the city of Seoul is effectively employing it as a strategic component in destination branding efforts. Successful efforts with target audiences could be extended to the rest of the international community. Seoul truly does offer a unique cultural experience and deserves to be added to tourist’s itineraries. Hopefully future initiatives for western nations will inform travelers so that Seoul seems less “unknown”.

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