Branding Is About People

I came across this article in the Korea Times, which states that "it is now widely recognized that Korean tourism needs some serious upgrading and a thorough re-branding in order to contribute to the national reputation and economy on the scale that it could and should."

The author, David Mason, is an American who has lived in south Korea for a long time. In his article he focuses on leveraging the country's incredible history and heritage to attract religious, spiritual and pilgrimage tourism. While I don't disagree that Korea has much to offer the visitor in search of this, and that these cultural attractions should be promoted, part of the rebranding effort has to focus at a more fundamental level – on the customer (aka visitor) experience. When I was there on business, it was sometimes hard to accomplish some simple things. Here's two things the Korea Tourist Board should be thinking about now:

1. Front line employees can positively impact the customer experience.
One night during my trip I was out walking and looking for something to do that didn’t involve shopping or being out in the bone chilling February cold any longer. Business travel can be stressful and I needed something to iron out the kinks so I decided to seek out a bathhouse and get a scrub massage, something I'd been told by friends was a not to be missed kind of experience. Unfortunately for me, the woman who staffed the information center that I stopped into barely spoke English and wasn't able to be terribly helpful about the bath house or any other tourist possibilities I could have availed myself of.

I managed to get a name on a piece of paper and some directions which seemed easy enough but I was tired and cold and soon forgot where she had said to go. So, I was stuck - I couldn’t pronounce the name on my piece of paper and none of the signs on the buildings matched up with the characters written on the paper. What a missed opportunity, at minimum, to alleviate stress, which studies show can be causal in changes in brand preferences. It's statistically likely that many visiting tourists will have some knowledge of the english language so why not then make information centers easy to find and staff them with people who speak English well. This could have been an opportunity to inform and delight.

2. Invest in brand ambassadors. (And think outside of the box abut who they are.)
Once I was lost, my interest in figuring out what to do next diminished rapidly and a soak in my bathtub back at the hotel sounded just fine all of a sudden. I was tired and cold so I decided to jump a cab home, since I really had no idea how far it was from where I happened to be standing at that moment. When I showed the business card of the hotel where I was staying to the cab driver, he said a lot of things to me that I didn’t understand, then ejected me from his cab!

Understand, like the department of tourism in Belize, that cab drivers are an important touchpoint for your brand and position them as such.

Natalie Zensius is a marketing communications strategist with experience in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors. Learn more about Natalie at

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