East Asia: Revisited

Photo Credit: Katherine Li ’17

I entered the Chazen Hong Kong & South Korea trip excited about the opportunity to explore a somewhat familiar industry in a completely unfamiliar place. And we did just that. In our amazing, motley crew of 30 students, we heard from trailblazers in the media, arts and entertainment space. From tech executives who shared their vision for connecting the next generation of consumers to famed news anchors who opened up about how they maintain journalistic integrity while running a profitable business, we got a candid look at the east Asian marketplace. The topics we once learned about in coffee chats and trade rags, were now tangible. We no longer had to read about the trends, we were with the decision-makers driving them. It was that experience that was truly invaluable.

While I was proud to leave the trip with deeper insights around the challenges studios face in getting movies into China and the hurdles digital music services encounter when acquiring customers across borders, for example, my biggest lessons of all boil down to perspective. It’s easy to be U.S.-centric and think about how to take advantage of this “all about Asia” wave as American companies focus their sights abroad, but it’s more important to truly dive into why these markets are deemed so valuable in the first place. There are so many unique cultural, economic and political insights to be uncovered that can make businesses and business leaders in any country more innovative and effective.

My most important takeaways from the trip all center around three key themes.

  1. Culture is one of our most valuable exports. It’s easy to forget that our culture creates some of the world’s most valuable products. The music we love, the movies we watch and the stories we share are not only entertaining, but how we connect with the world. The ability to harness the power of that connection is the foundation of media and entertainment industries all across the globe. Seeing the enormous growth of the Korean wave (“hallyu” 한류) and the opportunities it has created for the economy are direct proof of that. While automotive exports may generate over $60B in value, the phenomenon of Korean entertainment and pop culture has brought bringing pop music, TV dramas and movies to masses and an enormous opportunity for the Korea economy.
  2. Everything can be branded. Even with a background in advertising, I have taken for granted the depths at which consumers connect with brands. Our visit to S.M. Entertainment, however, brought this insight to another level. The team known as “the company that created K-Pop”, is not only a record label and talent agency, but a branding juggernaut. In the States, kids may have had a Justin Bieber backpack or a One Direction lunch box, but in Korea, consumers are drinking Girls Generation white ale and paying a premium to eat Red Velvet red velvet cupcakes. The sophistication with which Korean companies approach branding easily eclipses what we have seen in the U.S. It is an enlightening reminder of the ways in which American brands can think outside the box to create unique and compelling lifestyle experiences for their customers, far beyond what is expected.
  3. Localization is everything. East Asia is a rich and complex economic environment and each country, region and city has their own unique culture, norms and beliefs. Acknowledging, respecting and investing in that is the only way outsiders can even have a shot a piece of the pie. As students we are easily seduced by flashy global brands, but a closer examination of strong, local players could give us even more insight into how to create new opportunities to drive growth and profitability for any business in which we may operate. Our visit to KKBOX proved just that. Most of us could easily talk about Spotify’s scale or Apple’s network effects, but KKBOX showed us how truly thinking local can not only drive revenue, but also create new business opportunities. While U.S. players may rely on recurring credit card payments, for example, KKBOX recognized that they could acquire more diverse customers with a wider range of payment options. Their partnership with local telcos, peer-to-peer communities, and even convenience stores are a prime example of this idea of local innovation that we could translate into all markets.

So while I was sad to see our trip come to an end, I feel lucky to know that I got far more out of this experience than I could have ever imagined. I have tangible lessons about global businesses, and the media and entertainment space more specifically, that I can directly apply to my career as I prepare to leave CBS this spring. The greatest gift though, as I think all of us could attest, were the relationships we were able to create during our whirlwind ten days abroad. From realizing we didn’t bring enough layers to brave the Korean cold or getting pressured into trying Cantonese chicken feet for the first time, we all had this unique chance to jump outside of our comfort zone, together. Because of that, I have created bonds with people through this incredible shared experience that I will never forget.

Thanks for the memories.


Courtney Richardson ‘17

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