Breaking an Artist in the Digital Age Pt. 6: K-Pop (A Case Study)

Over the years I have become a big fan of Korean Pop Music (K-Pop). The business of K-Pop is as lucrative as the music is catchy, and makes for an interesting case study for record labels and artists worldwide.

The Korean Wave (Hallyu) refers to the increase in the popularity of South Korean culture since the late 1990s. In terms of K-Pop, Hallyu equates to a high profit margin.

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What makes K-Pop so profitable? K-Pop stars have become all encompassing entertainers: singers, dancers, actors, presenters; which takes years of training and artist development.

Sean Saw, S.M. Entertainment’s strategy and planning rep, notes that “each of S.M.’s 20 to 30 trainees costs $100,000 a year, for anywhere between three and seven years. As is the case with the majority of these systems, once artists have been selected to ‘debut’ as part of a boy group or girl group, they’re offered a contract, or, as Saw phrases it, ‘partnership,’ that can last as long as 15 years.”

Read more: Seoul Trained: Inside Korea’s Pop Factory

What’s the pay off? For S.M. Entertainment, the pay off is massive. S.M. Entreatment’s revenue increased by 82% jump in 2012, taking in $225 million, making it the biggest label in K-Pop.

Landing a spot in a K-Pop group, however, is not easy. Over 300,000 applicants from over nine countries apply for spots in music groups each year. For the few who make the cut, and survive the years of training, their hard work and efforts can lead to a prosperous career.

Read more: Korea’s S.M. Entertainment: The Company That Created K-Pop


Breaking an Artist in the Digital Age Pt. 5: The 20 Branding Commandments

There are no recipes or secrets that will ensure the creation of a successful brand, but there is a lot of advice that artist can consider when developing branding strategies.  Here are a few tips on branding that many business, PR people and marketers have used in the past, including some strategies that I have used when helping some of my (social media and SEO marketing) clients:

1) Take criticism with a grain of salt.  Some criticism is perfectly okay to ignore, but others may help artists to improve their brand.

2) Social media and online branding success is not about the technology itself; it’s about using the technology to create opportunities for your listeners to passionately invest themselves in your music.

3) Create an immersive experience.  Tap into the power of fandom.  Create more than just music that the listener can listen to, create something that listener can incorporate into their lives.  Let them live your brand.

4) Bond with fans. Fans are friends; they are looking for artists who they can relate to (via weaknesses, life experiences, interests, nerdiness, etc.).  Fans want to see a part of themselves in the artists they cherish.

5)Know who to please.  Are you trying to please your fans or trying to please everyone?  If you go after the wrong group, the appropriate group may abandon you.

6) Always seek new fans.  Look for opportunities to increase your fan base (collaborations, endorsements, etc.).  If an artist creates an “exclusive” fan base, the artist wills money.  Artists can actively target a particular demographic while passively gaining members of another demographic.

7) Choose your battles.  Beef can be good; look at the history of hip hop.  However, beef can be bad; look at the history of hip hop.  Having controversy with another artist, organization or product may help your brand, but may also ruin it; it doesn’t work for everyone.  Don’t destroy your brand, fan base or put yourself in legal jeopardy in an attempt to create and/or maintain a brand.

8 ) Be true – to yourself and to your fans.  Don’t compromise your sound to appeal to a wider audience.

9) Be unique.  Great brands offer listeners a unique experience.  Look at Lady Gaga…enough said.

10) Sell more than just your music.  Actually, don’t sell your music at all.  Sell the emotional and personal connection that will force fans to invest their person in you.

11) Be intuitive to your brand’s timeline.  When your brand’s timeline is coming to an end, consider reinventing your brand before it dies off.  This could be through new collaborations, exploring other genres, etc.

12) Know your enemy.  Know your enemy’s battle plan, ammunition and armament.  Know that having your enemy can help you increase your brand; by making yourself distinct from your enemy, you are creating uniqueness.  Remember, the music biz is a constant battle; win the war.

13) Understand economics, specifically, understand elasticity.   As your brand grows, and as your fan base increases, understand how supply, demand and cost will affect your fan base.  Don’t make assumptions or relay on other musicians’ experiences.  Each fan base is as unique as each artist, and various economic factors pertaining to your fan base will directly affect your personal economics.

14) Be ambiguous, but do so strategically.  A part of the intrigue that fans have towards artists is the vision that the fan has created of the artist.  Tell your story, but allow fans to use their imagination to fill in the gaps.  At the same time, being too mysterious may work for some artists and not others; and may work up to some extent, but not beyond that.

15) Work in the best interest of your brand when choosing between public relations and marketing: PR (having others talk about your brand), marketing (talking about your brand yourself), or a combination.

16) Be revolutionary.  People usually remember the unusual, not the norm.  If you do something has never been seen, fans can’t help but remember.  The unusual, however, is either a great thing or a detrimental thing.  Being different creates passion, but being creepy looses listenership.

17) Avoid, and withstand, the hype.  Too much hype creates too high of a pedestal.  Allow hype to come natural so that fans have a realistic expectation of you, your brand and your music.  And keep in mind that word of mouth is still one of the best methods.

18) Have passion.  Do what you’re passionate about doing. If there is no passion, it will eventually show in your music.

19) If you stand for something, live up to it.  Otherwise you risk losing your fans and risk looking phony.

20) Think like a high school psychology student.  Learn more about the impact that psychological, conversational and social impacts have on your fans.  You don’t have to be a psychologist to figure out what moves your fans and what influences their music choices.

Breaking an Artist in the Digital Age Pt. 4: Factoring the Branding Figures

Branding an artist is tricky.  It takes a lot of skill, a lot of effort, and a lot of luck.  Some people think that the only successful artist branding is that of major artist.  But this is a gross understatement.  A successful brand, like a successful artist, is not measured by chart position: consider earnings, fan base, the longevity of the music, social impact, etc.

Whatever the goal that the artist is looking for in creating his or her successful brand, there are three tips to consider:

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  1. Know your fan base – Know what is important to your fans.  If you forget your fans, they will forget you.
  2. Think about media mix – In my last post about branding, I mentioned the need to develop marketing campaigns that are specific to the types of media on which the artist seeks to target listeners.  With the wide range of media available – computers, smartphones, TV, etc. – artists may have the biggest advantage in increasing their fan base if they expand their branding efforts to various media.  Doing this depends on many factors, including the media used by the target market, financial resources, and creative resources.
  3. Prove and improve your branding – In order to know the effectiveness of the artist’s branding efforts, the artist should have some technique in place to evaluate the effectiveness of the marketing campaign.  Once the artist knows how well or how poorly their branding efforts are, or has been, the artist is ready to develop strategies to improve.

As mentioned above, there are different ways to measure the success of a branding initiative.  A 2011 study by Nielsen, entitled Beyond Clicks and Impressions: Examining the Relationship Between Online Advertising and Brand Building, shines light on reasons why an artist should interpret branding success on various factors.

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According to the study, the click-through rate of digital advertisements does not illustrate the relationship between clicks and brand awareness.  This means, for example, that just because the listener did not click the link on the artist’s facebook contest doesn’t mean that the branding effort was a failure.  The listener likely took in, and remembered, the brand.

The study also shows that brand awareness correlates to offline sales impacts.  As mentioned before, the listener may not have clicked on whatever it was that the artist had in association to their marketing campaign, but the branding effort may have been successful because the listener may have purchased music, merchandise or concert tickets that were not associated with that particular advertisement.

The study shows that online ads can increase the impact of the brand; however, artists should use the brand awareness to differentiate themselves.  Since online branding efforts are working, artists need to take advantage of their digital efforts to showcase how amazing they are as compared to similar artists.

With 249.3 million Americans on the Internet, according to Nielsen, it is also useful for artists to do their homework in developing branding efforts and measuring success.

According to The Kern Organization’s 2011 Mid-Year Marketing Trends Study, 37% of marketing organizations believe that Facebook is the most important social media channel (followed by Twitter and LinkedIn).  In light of this, 16% of marketing organizations find satisfaction in current social media efforts.

Although this study looks at marketing companies in various industries, and is not exclusive to the music biz, it does highlight the importance of social media and highlights the need for artists to revamp existing social media marketing campaigns.

A similar consideration for artist to take in is search engine optimization (SEO).  Kern’s essay finds that Google has 88 billion search queries per month while Twitter has 19 billion, Yahoo has 9.4 billion and Bing! has 4.1 billion.  By understanding the services that a potential fan base uses to search for music or information about artists, an artist can develop a more impactful SEO and marketing plan.

There are many ways to determine the success of branding.  By coming up with strategies to best achieve the desired success, and evaluating the results, artists can create the brand that best suit their goals and their fan base.


Similar posts:

Breaking an Artist in the Digital Age Pt. 1: Odds, Facts and Figures

Breaking an Artist in the Digital Age Pt. 2: Avoiding Premature Hype and Pigeonholes

Breaking an Artist in the Digital Age Pt. 3: Branding 101

Breaking an Artist in the Digital Age Pt. 3: Branding 101

When it comes to artist recognition, understanding the essence of branding is essential.  Artists have many considerations when developing, altering, and even understanding their personal brand.  For instance, who owns the brand – the artist or the label?  Many times the answer is in formal and informal agreements, found by following the cash flow associated with building the brand, or determined through tireless and expensive litigation.

Additionally, figuring out what it takes to create a brand is nerve-wracking – especially for indie bands, publishers and labels looking to make a start in the music biz.  Fortunately, many aspects of artist branding share commonalities with product/company branding in the business world.

As with the launch of any business, artists must determine what exactly they seek to brand – their music, their merchandise, their look or them as a franchise?  Songwriters, for instance, may want to brand their music since they desire to remain behind the scenes writing for others who will eventually perform their creations.  Bands, however, will want to brand themselves as a franchise since seek they stardom as performers.

Once the artist determines what she/he wants to brand, artists needs to understand the demographics of their potential fan base and how to break into that demographic.  There are many artists of various fame levels who have broken into their fan base by luck.  Although luck is a huge factor in breaking an artist, that alone should not be the artists’ game plan.

According to the 2007 Interbrand Brand Marketers Report, the six most important aspects of successful branding are:

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  1. Consistency of the Brand – Making sure the artist presents the brand in a way that does not confuse the fan base, dilute the brand, or try to please the public as a whole instead of the fan base.
  2. Understanding of the Customer or Target – This is pretty self-explanatory.  If an artist wants to brand him or herself as a country music star, he or she should probably know what attracts country music fans.
  3. Message/Communication – A brand will die off if the brand is never communicated to the potential fan base.  An artist needs to have some sort of marketing plan, or a public relations campaign, in place so that the artist can reach the target market.
  4. Creative/Design/Brand ID – In a world that is becoming more reliant on technology and entertainment, it is detrimental for artist to hone in on the creative aspect of the brand.  This could be visual or oral – sound is just as important as a look, which is just as important as the feel of the brand.  This applies to the music, personas, live performances, and any other form of communication.
  5. Relevance – Marketing efforts used to brand the artist should relate to the artist.
  6. Differentiation/Uniqueness – Fans don’t listen to music because it is exactly like something else that they like.  They want something different, something unique, out of every song and every artist.  Even if a song or an artist is similar, something unique should exist.

Artists should also consider the technology that is available and used by potential listeners.  We live in a mobile society where technology is present in most aspects of our lives.  However, just because a new technology has emerged doesn’t mean that the artist should create a marketing plan specific to that technology if it is not being used by his or her fan base.

According to a 2011 study by Aimia, Inc., 79% of persons age 19 to 29 have a laptop, as compared to 65% of persons not within that age range; only 8% of 19 to 29 year olds have a tablet, as compared to 47% of persons outside of that age group; and 47% of 19 to 29 year olds have a smartphone, as compared to 30% of persons outside of that age group.

Even with the insane amount of digital devices that are available, TV is more relevant than ever.  Given this fact, artists should continue to take advantage of it – via videos, commercials, endorsements, show appearances, etc.

When it comes to other forms of media, artists need specific marketing plans since not all communications are transferable over different mediums.

For example, computer marketing campaigns should give listeners a sense of competitiveness.  According to a 2011 report by Aimia, Inc., 44% of persons between the age of 19 and 29 are willing to promote brands through social media in exchange for rewards.  Offering a sneak peek to an upcoming album, advance ticket sales, etc., can benefit the artist.

Effective campaigns are  something that the listener can easily share or show off to social media contacts.  In the 2011 Aimia, Inc. report, 72% of 19 to 29 year olds used Facebook often or very often, and 17% of that age group used Twitter often or very often.  With that in mind, remember the importance of viewer friendly campaigns, as branding efforts are easily accessed by younger, or more sensitive, audiences.

Likewise, mobile marketing campaigns are best crafted specifically to this medium.  Because an artist sends the campaigns directly to a listener’s personal mobile device, the best campaigns are those that are more intimate.  These intimate marketing campaigns should show that the artist knows and understands his or listeners, otherwise it will seem obtrusive and may cost the artist a potential fan.

Creating the right marketing plan, that takes into consideration the demographic of the fan base and the mode of communication, is essential in effective branding.


Similar posts:

Breaking an Artist in the Digital Age Pt. 1: Odds, Facts and Figures

Breaking an Artist in the Digital Age Pt. 2: Avoiding Premature Hype and Pigeonholes