Promotion of Korea’s Nation Brand
Suh Dae-won

Executive Adviser of Hyundai Rotem
Former Ambassador to Hungary

The Presidential Council on Nation Branding recently unveiled an ambitious plan to drastically upgrade the value of Korea’s nation brand during a session presided over by President Lee Myung-bak. The council said it would raise Korea’s brand from near the bottom of the member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to the middle of the bloc by 2013. The so-called “Korea discount” phenomenon seems to reoccur amid some foreign media’s distrust and distorted reports about the Korean economy. Now it is appropriate for the government to embark on a nation branding campaign in order to upgrade Korea’s brand value in proportion to its economic power.
The nation brand is different from corporate and product brands that can be traded in the market. A country’s brand is a combination of its tangible and intangible assets. Upgrading a country’s brand value means improving and reinforcing its internal and external fundamentals. In this sense, it is important for the government to clarify the basic direction and principles in enhancing the nation’s brand value. First, we should concentrate on improving the fundamentals of our brand assets. These will include product competitiveness, sovereign credit standing, global citizenship and many other factors. In particular, the government has to take the lead in expanding the nation’s contributions to international society, while fostering its image as an exemplary state in the area of economic development and democratization.
At this point, there is one thing that we certainly have to remember. Many advanced countries have already been making contributions to international society several decades ahead of us. In particular, Sweden, Denmark and Norway have annually spent the equivalent of nearly 1 percent of their gross domestic product on overseas aid over the past 20 years. Thus, we should make extra efforts not to be seen as an arrogant donor. We should instead take a humble approach to the issue of overseas aid. As one of the world’s 10 largest economies and a responsible member of the international community, we should think that we are doing overdue homework. We must work passionately on this task for the next 10 to 20 years, but it is no less important to make global contributions quietly and with a humble attitude. This is the right way to perform our noblesse oblige for the international community. Our passionate contributions would help us secure a moral foundation in global society, paving the ground for a farsighted policy to upgrade the value of our nation brand.
Second, it is important to establish “global standards” in our systems, practices and ways of thinking. We should set a high value on our systems and practices as well as those of other countries by opening and widening our perspective and thinking. We should be able to not only publicize and distribute ours, but also accept and recognize others. By doing so, we have to overcome the barriers of nationalism and emphasis on bloodlines, which have justified the “of the Koreans, by the Koreans and for the Koreans” notion. Korea is now aiming to become one of the most advanced nations. We should confidently display our courage and determination to think beyond our borders and accept and implement international standards. Only when we understand and treasure what other countries have to offer, we can clearly see the value of our own assets and have greater affection for them.
Third, we should keep in mind that the nation’s brand value cannot be upgraded in a short period of time, due to its unique characteristics. If we make excessively hasty moves or are preoccupied with tangible outcomes in the short term, we can hardly succeed. The essence of a nation’s brand value rests in the country’s overall level of dignity. It is necessary to set a goal and analyze the outcome. But if we are excessively concerned about measurable and visible outcomes, the means can become the end itself. In the end, it is meaningless if we ourselves argue over whether our nation brand has been improved or raised. It is truly meaningful only when others, namely foreign countries and foreigners, voluntarily acknowledge their respect for Korea’s nation brand. It will run counter to the abovementioned global standards if we rush to achieve visible short-term results.
[JoongAng Ilbo, March 24, 2009]