Korean Rap singer Psy has hit all the airwaves and stations with his recent hit Gangnam Style. What can we learn from his hit song in branding and marketing?

If you have been on Planet Earth for the past couple of months, you would have heard and seen the quirky, catchy and enjoyable Korean pop/rap song – Gangnam Style, by Korean rap singer Psy.

Unlike many Korean pop groups and singers who are younger, Psy is an average looking, middle-aged gentleman. Other than his strong masculine vocals, why did his song catch on? And more congruent to our business, what can we learn from his song’s popularity that we can learn for branding and marketing? Surprisingly, quite a few things.

First, it says one thing – window dressing is not everything. In the FMCG industry, often, we would imagine retail outlets having the best visual merchandising, the grandest and most expensive displays, and the most flashy frontline staff uniforms and so on, would beat the plain old store with simple layouts and down-to-earth apparels for employees. After all, there are some who would argue that looks mean everything. However, in the case of Psy, his confidence, his vocals, his soulful rendition, and his humor, all stood shoulder to shoulder with other competing Korean pop groups or singers with better packaging. It is therefore important that we remember content and substance mean everything. When we develop our core competencies, our knowledge, our business intelligence, our corporate personality, we may compete easily with others with a much bigger budget spent on visual packaging. Customers are buying an experience and a quality product. A quality product is a given. An experience does not however, necessarily mean an expensive window display or store decor, but how knowledgeable, approachable, sensitive and persuasive the frontline employees are to the customer. All too often, we have walked into an expensive outlet only to have frontliners who tend to us with little or no professional knowledge, failing us miserably, and leaving us to figure out just what we want and need (Google is our friend, as they say).

Second, make things simple and make them work. In the case of Psy’s song, it has a simple premise – a happy and humorous song with simple lyrics that are catchy and easy to remember, an even simpler dance routine that almost anyone can emulate and enjoy. Psy has literally moved internationally out of South Korea alone, and have gone on to entertain and teach his simple dance to top Western celebrities and personalities alike (even UN sec-gen the Honorable Ban Ki-Moon!). Therefore, in our marketing and branding efforts, we must remember to be radically and compellingly succinct in our brand and product messaging, slogans, advertising copy, news releases, technical and usage documentation, usage mechanics and workflow, and most of all, the product must simply just work, without bewildering our customers. There is a reason why certain products moved more pervasively in the market, such as Mac OS X, iOS devices, Ubuntu Linux, and now, Windows 8.

Third, let us remember to entertain our customers. If you have dabbled or even immersed yourself in the YouTube phenomenon, you would notice that the most popular videos, even if they have a commercial bent, are those that are deeply entertaining or downright hilarious. Against the economic woes the world endures, what many of us would like is some harmless entertainment anyone can enjoy to lighten the nerves we shoulder daily. Psy has created an entertaining phenomenon of a song, that has rolled so many in laughter that many even parodied his song worldwide – a sure sign of a successful viral phenomenon. Likewise, when we entertain our customers, keep our videos short (30 seconds is just enough, and 1 minute is probably as long as we can go), keep them decent and hilarious (anyone from a young kid to a mature adult can enjoy), and keep our messaging memorable (and provide a link if possible).

Fourth, build compelling partnerships that matter. Psy has partnered with popular singers, a great ensemble of dancers and actors, and a stable of horses, to bring about a powerful rendition of a grand music and dance experience in his music video. If Psy merely sang and danced by himself, the song would not have made the same impression. Therefore, in our business, it is important to find honorable and complementary partners to work with, to build on areas we are deficient in (by choice or not), so that we can offer holistic and comprehensive services to serve the needs of our customers. The world is competitive, and complementary partners help each other build far more successful businesses than each one can do by itself.

There is no success without labors and preparation first lining the bottom. When we build our brands, remember that the best marketing efforts tend to have substance, simple and functional, positively entertaining, and leverage on the collective strengths of many. May our brands sizzle and dazzle our customers!

PS – Of course, nothing lasts forever. But hey, smile a little, and everything has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?