What We Can Learn from How Korean Startups Approach Marketing

January 28, 2016

4:05 pm

I’ve worked almost exclusively with Korean startups for close to a year and my take is that Korean startups have a long way to go before being heralded as global marketing titans. Domestically – sure, some startups have some incredible staffers who are able to consistently get fantastic coverage. But when the ball game shifts to the global stage? It’s like watching a sumo wrestler try figure skating; many of their skills just don’t translate.

Don’t get me wrong, some of these startups have some fantastic marketing fodder. Whether it’s through social media, public outreach, or even local events, many Korean startups that want to go global have the material for it, it’s just they haven’t put some of the pieces together.

So, I’ve gathered a couple of startups based in Seoul who do marketing well and to see if what they’re doing could translate globally.


FireShot Capture 244 - 망고플레이트_ 나만의 맛집 검색 - http___www.mangoplate.com_

You know that habit we have of taking pictures of food for social media (if you’re saying you don’t do it, I don’t believe you)?  Mangoplate took that idea and added another dimension. One visit to their page and it looks like a cross between Instagram, Yelp, and Buzzfeed, effectively resulting in a tornado of foodgasms.

From listicles of the best eats to the user generated reviews and pictures, Mangoplate is the first site I’ve been to where I wanted to click on every single picture.

Would this translate well if they continued globally? Absolutely. With an English interface, I could easily see Mangoplate being the go-to app for tourists and foreigners in Korea.

Daily Boom

Strategically placed sticker on a subway door in Seoul.

Translation: Don’t push today’s shopping to tomorrow, because the product won’t be there tomorrow!

Daily Boom only launched last November but has picked up considerable revenue since then. How did such an early stage startup make this list? Because they’re the first Korean startup I’ve seen use a guerrilla marketing campaign successfully.

Daily Boom is a daily deals for locals in Korea. Ranging from cell phone cases to clothing, the platform has built a steadily following resulting in merchants lining up to sell their goods on the platform.

So how did they pull that off in a bit over 2 months? They stuck stickers in high traffic places.

If you’ve ever seen pictures of people pushing people into subways in Japan, think of Korea as somewhat close to that. Equipped with 1000s of stickers, the team placed stickers all over Korea’s subway doors, buses, and even waiting areas.

While this isn’t new by any means, in Korea they’re the first startup I’ve seen do this successfully.

Would this translate well if they continued globally? Abroad they’d have some difficulty (both regulatory and with competition). But I mean, I’ve stood in front of subway doors looking out into dark tunnels, one sticker may entice me to look it up on my phone. Maybe that’s just me.


FireShot Capture 245 - 롤리캠 - lollicam - https___www.facebook.com_lollicam__fref=ts

With over millions of downloads, you can argue that lollicam has made it in the big leagues. Yet the English – or any other language minus Korean for that matter — is completely absent. Beyond the lack of global marketing, let’s take look at what they’re doing with their own social media.

The page looks and feels very much like the page of a social media enthusiast. With celebrity and user Instagram stills and videos aplenty, the platform does what they do best: feed the need for cutesy comedy for the millions of Instagram addicted boys and girls out there.

For an app that allows users to beautify and add moving clips to selfies and pictures, I could easily imagine the page being close to what one of their users may have.

Would this translate well if they continued globally? I mean who doesn’t want to see their favorite celebs in cute cat ears in a 3-second video? But all things considered, for their target demographic, I could see this working out.

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Sejung works in PR and helps bring startup scenes from all over the world together. Based out of Seoul, South Korea, when he's not writing about startup PR or marketing you can often find him enabling his basketball addiction.