The Five Pillars of K-Pop Marketing Strategies –


Known for its high production value and multi-genre composition, the Korean music industry quickly gained worldwide recognition. The industry’s ability to create immersive experiences that intelligently incorporate the best in music, technology and design, to entertain millions, is etched in our minds.

While it’s interesting that the industry never runs out of content, the process of curating that content until it’s released is much more fascinating. With the dynamism of social media at play, the multi-billion dollar industry has grasped the power of content creation and social media marketing allowing K-pop artists to reach larger masses with almost no ad spend. in place. It is evident that music marketing professionals are revisiting the Korean music marketing model (especially K-pop) as a case study to boost their numbers.

The heart of any marketing plan rests on three pillars: the pre-launch, launch and sustain phases. While the first two phases focus on getting your product to market (in this case, a new single or album), the second deals with the longevity of your marketing efforts by ensuring that the relevance of your product does not collapse.

Here are five common marketing strategies used by record labels to promote an artist’s return:

Create a buzzing moment

Artist: BTS

When the group isn’t making history or breaking records, pop titans BTS are oiling their gears to mobilize their next marketing maverick. In a classic K-pop setting, most groups (including BTS) usually post teaser photos or videos hinting at their upcoming release. These assets give fans an aesthetic and sonic sense of the unreleased track, simultaneously brimming with excitement and intrigue.

In a strategic move to announce BTS’ return in the summer of 2021, the septet launched an animation-based live stream on YouTube. With nothing but a timer set to 60 minutes, sounds of a bustling kitchen, and a cube of butter melting with every passing second, the live stream surprised fans, immediately launching an online discourse on what that the flow might involve.

While many bet on a collaborative project with the fast food chain McDonald’s, a few had already decoded the message – it was indeed a live stream that built up to the announcement of the the group’s second single, entirely in English, “Butter”.

Holding the audience’s attention for the duration of a live stream is difficult, let alone a 60-minute timer and without a solid AV connection. But keeping BTS ARMY’s digital dominance in mind, they’re the only group that has the power to launch a bold marketing move of this magnitude.

The innovative pre-launch effort saw 800,000 people tune in to watch the video, which now has over 18 million views. Twitter quickly caught the virus with global trends dominated by terms related to the live stream and BTS, one of them being “What’s melting” – a term that became one of the campaign’s main promotional hashtags. .

Focus on hyper-localized content

Artists: Stray Kids and NCT 127

Make a resounding comeback with their second full album Not easySouth Korean powerhouse Stray Kids has been making waves with their unique sound.

Reflecting on the group’s talent for all things witty, Stray Kids announced their comeback through a jaw-dropping cinematic trailer. The group extracted several unique references to their personalities, careers and used them in the trailer.

Upon release, the trailer (which positions Stray Kids as a group of saviors on a mission to defeat the “Sound Monster”) set social media sites ablaze. Many fans were quick to spot the references and hidden jokes, sharing their observations on Twitter. Here, the hyper-localized content spawned various talk with fans rewatching the trailer and sharing their learnings on social media. This created a strong sense of community, strengthening their relationship with the group.

From Felix checking his pulse to Changbin creating a stir when the celestial-like music kicked in as soon as the camera focused on Hyunjin, the trailer was a goldmine for fans. It was almost as if the band were sending their fans on an Easter egg hunt, and in return they took over social media, increasing the chatter around the hidden clues in the trailer and, of course, the release of their next album.

Likewise, NCT 127 created buzz around their third LP Sticker thanks to the release of a sitcom-inspired video titled ICT house. NCT arguably has a native content strategy, especially on YouTube, where the group periodically uploads videos in categories ranging from variety, sitcoms, news, music and more. In the case of NCIT House, the band has unlocked a Wonderwall for NCTzens (fans of the band), loaded with canon storylines.

From Taeyong’s (NCT leader) love of all dried sweet potatoes, Jungwoo constantly munching to Mark’s Spider-Man mystery, NCT House managed to stir up intrigue and anticipation around the album without too much of a fuss. to unveil. Jaehyun, Johnny, and Mark’s skit, in particular, was the highlight of the episode with the entire segment improvised on the spot.

Give the wheel to the public

Artist: Moon Byul of MAMAMOO

One of the factors that makes K-pop compelling is the meticulous rollout plans we see in action before an EP or LP is released. For longtime fans of the genre, return times are not unheard of. In fact, the marketing strategy is key to giving fans an idea of ​​what the weeks (or in many cases a month) before the return will look like, generating just enough anticipation.

Announcing the schedule ahead of any new release also allows online communities to strategize and mobilize, preparing for the return. Promotional trailers as well as “return goals” (quantifiable streams and number of views) are released with accounts that also inform each other about streaming hygiene.

A classic comeback schedule consists of intriguing trailers, concept photos, and other promotional materials that help fuel discussions online around the release. The best way to create intrigue around any release is to create a carefully curated treat trail – a marketing strategy that the K-pop industry continues to champion.

In the case of MAMAMOO’s Moon Byul, the rapper, singer, and songwriter divided her efforts into two sections: the pre-release phase (which marketed her pre-release singles “G999” and “Shutdown”), and the final stage which focused on promoting his EP 6equence. While the pre-release phase oscillated between unique covers and concept photos, the latter saw the artist use an array of assets to build anticipation.

From the visual teaser, medley of highlights (snippets of assembled tracks) to teaser and ambient samplers, 6equence’s rollout plan was indeed a marketing treat. Of all the organized marketing assets, the ambience samplers took the crown. The punchy 2-second clips set a precedent for tracks on the EP, allowing audiences to immerse themselves in the sound transcriptions of each clip.

Focus on community engagement

Artist: BTS

Hosted by fan accounts, stream parties are digital events that focus on boosting an artist’s streams and are a staple of fandom culture. Mainly organized on major streaming platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music or YouTube, streaming parties help to elevate the artist’s position in the charts, while simultaneously increasing their potential to reach new listeners.

Over the years, streaming parties have proven to be an influential strategy for bridging the gap between an artist and their goals. Driven by fans alone, the calculation of an astronomical number of streams around a specific release also leaves room for earned media opportunities. With little to no PR pressure, breaking streaming records counts as an interesting story angle, allowing the press to double the number of releases around a single or album.

Assessing the benefits of streaming parties, HYBE Corp (BTS’s label) and Columbia Records have seized the opportunity in streaming parties by dedicating seven days to exclusive “Butter” global streaming parties.

Photo: Courtesy of Columbia Music/HYBE Corp.

With a microsite in place, the global streaming party required fans to tune into their favorite streaming destination (Spotify or Apple Music). Once linked, thousands of fans would browse a curated playlist of popular BTS tracks, with “Butter” being the recurring track.

Taking community engagement (the ethos of K-pop marketing) a notch higher, the website also enabled real-time communication among fans, creating a holistic fandom experience, especially at a time when most were locked up at home due to pandemic restrictions.

Create an unforgettable unboxing experience

Aartist: CMA Ian

While physical album sales are a pain point for many artists, South Korean artists seem to have the upper hand in this category. The main argument remains the relevance of physical albums: why invest in albums when the titles are available for free on streaming sites?

Although it seems like a logical argument, physical albums go beyond their aural purpose. For many, albums are a treasure trove to collect, but for K-pop fans, albums are an experience.

Loaded with mini Easter eggs, a standard K-pop album comes with stickers, photo cards, photo albums, posters and more. Offering more than just the audio disc, the addition of collectible merchandise creates a unique unboxing experience, which, in large measure, can help boost physical album sales.

Last year, singer-songwriter and producer DPR Ian seems to have hit the mark in the field of packaging. DPR Ian’s album Mood swings in this order (MITO) Comes with a layered heat sensitive film on top. Fans can either run a flame over the cover to reveal the white-hued album cover, or run a damp cloth over it to retain its stark black cover. Unlike standard K-pop albums, DPR Ian’s may not be loaded with photo cards, but the album’s creative contributions promise an equally thrilling unboxing experience.


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