South Korea Part 1: Hey Seoul Sister

August 20, 2018


At the beginning of August I was sent on secondment to our Seoul office in South Korea to assist in expanding the office and support the training of the local team. I’m now at the start of week 3 and figured I’d discuss what makes this market so incredibly unique in the global digital scenery and some of the nuances that make this market so different from the Western world.


Google vs. Naver: Re-Learning the Basics

For Western search marketers, there needs to be a key understanding that Naver is not Google and with Google only making up 15% of the market, you’ll need to get to grips with the platform fairly quickly.

There are a few key areas where they differ but the main one is the lack of match type variation. The search engine uses an exact-match only keyword targeting system that basically removes any opportunity for automated keyword research through Search Query reporting. Instead, keyword research has to be conducted manually so expect to commit a fair few hours to it.

Also CPCs are based on average costs over the last 30 days, then paying an allocated CPC for a set period (from 30-90 days).

The nuances within the platform are many and not terribly easy to understand so best to put some time in to get to grips with South Korea’s biggest search platform.


Mobile or Bust

It will come as no surprise to any digital marketer that mobile has become the most prominent platform for marketers to be targeting but desktop still remains a huge part of ecommerce. However, in South Korea it is actually much easier to purchase an item using your phone than on a desktop device. Thanks to KakaoPay (linked to South Korea’s top messaging app KakaoTalk) South Korea now has the highest smartphone penetration in the world and consumers actively prefer paying on their phone.

Whilst Google introduced the “mobile first” regulations earlier this year, South Korea has already embraced and implemented mobile payment universally (taxis, restaurants and shops) and ecommerce has been one of the big winners from this.

With that in mind, if you’re aiming to get into the South Korean market, ensure your mobile website is up to scratch and implement KakaoPay. Without it, you’ll be losing approximately two thirds of your consumers before you even begin.


Beauty, Fashion and Luxury, Pay Attention.

It cannot be understated that South Korea is ranked among the top beauty markets in the world, forecast to be worth an estimated 16.7 billion dollars by the end of 2018, whilst Fashion & Apparel is valued at 11.4 billion dollars. For any beauty or fashion brand, South Korea is a market that you simply cannot pass up but understand that you cannot approach it with a “one size fits all” approach.

Consumers here are very particular about what they prefer to see in advertising, opting for marketing that incorporates local celebrities and influencers rather than Western celebrities. Your hugely successful, Hollywood movie star campaign may work wonders in the UK and US, but here it won’t make the cut and consumers will vote with their wallets accordingly.

A tailored, localised approach is the only way to make an impact in this market where huge brands are often beaten out by local players simply due to a naive approach to the market. Do your research, invest in a fully local strategy and commit to the market, otherwise you’ll find your campaign falling flat on its face.


A Question of Understanding Culture

The key to understanding South Korea as a market is that it is a medley of established traditions combined with rapid modernisation. What is interesting is that the adoption of technology has been relatively frictionless so ensuring your strategy reflects this is incredibly important.

Be mobile ready, learn about the local search engines and follow consumer demand. Use your data and adapt locally, South Korea is waiting for you and your business.



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