Digital Wonderland Needs an Enhanced Image

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This is the first in a three part series
Sunday, December 14th, 2008
Son Yeon-gi

Son Yeon-gi, President and CEO of the Korea Agency for Digital Opportunity and Promotion

Image is a value given as a result of the cognitive process of receiving external stimuli and combining them with cerebral pictures to give new meanings to things or phenomena. The term image, which originated from the Greek word eikon, means an idea or a mental picture. Simply put, it is an impression of what we have felt from things or people.

Images are usually etched in our minds based on our first impressions. Such images are thus very hard to change. Images we have in our minds are so important that we are influenced by them all our life. Imagemaking is a process of delivering our own image to other people in a positive way. This is an intentional process of creating our own images and achieving the best image goals we have set, while fully displaying our potential abilities under these circumstances.

Image-making efforts are being made in various sectors, including enterprises, groups and states, as well as individuals. Especially, in the era of globalization, the national image is regarded as a decisive factor of soft power, which is considered more important than conventional concepts of national power such as economic or military strength, and a criterion for national competitiveness. Under these circumstances, each country is making enormous investments in forming its own image.

As part of its efforts to boost its image, India has been spending a lot of money to publicize itself overseas under the slogan New India. Under the respective slogans Truly Asia and 100% Pure, Malaysia and New Zealand have also been making artistic and cultural efforts by spending huge amounts of money on PR for about 10 years or more. These countries making such efforts consider their national image as a decisive variable for enhancing national competitiveness.

For all this, Korea's image is currently at a low level, compared with its economic size. According to Anholt- GMI, a multinational brand evaluation agency, Korea's brand value is 30 percent of its GDP. In terms of brand power, Korea ranked 32nd among 38 countries surveyed late last year, down from 25th among 35 nations surveyed in 2005.

Low evaluation of Korea's image means that Korean products are sold cheaper than normal prices in overseas markets. In a joint survey of national brands in 2007, KOTRA and the Institute for Industrial Policy Studies found that if the Korean products are indexed at 100, the index of the U.S. and Japanese ones is 149 and that of Germany is 155, provided that the quality of their products is the same. It is the reality that no matter how good Korean enterprises' products are, they have to sell their products cheaper than their rivals' in overseas markets due to a "Korea discount" phenomenon. For this reason, Korean enterprises are hesitating to publicize the Korea brand overseas, considering that a mere 20 percent of buyers of Korean products have decided to buy them based on their trust in the Korea brand.

Mindful of this problem, the government came forward to launch the National Image Committee under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister in 2002 in an effort to boost the national image. The committee plays a role in suggesting a blueprint and formulating strategies for the improvement of the national image, and lending cooperation and support to the government and the private sector in overseas publicity activities. Next year, the government will also launch a presidential commission on the national brand, which will enhance the international competitiveness of major Korean cities; establish a virtuous relationship between corporate and national marketing activities; lay the foundation for Korea as a culture and art savvy country; carry out overseas PR activities with different strategies for different countries; enhance Korea's leadership in the international community; increase international recognition of Korea; and promote friendly feelings among foreigners toward Koreans and Korean culture.

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