Dynamic Marketing Communiqué

From Seoul to the World: Learn how this visionary turned the K-pop dream into a global phenomenon! [Monday: Marketing Marvels]

February 5, 2024

K-pop culture has become a global phenomenon today, with some of the most sensational K-pop groups and artists like BLACKPINK, BTS, EXO, and Enhypen. These talents are all affiliated with different entertainment agencies.

Some of you might be wondering: 

What laid the foundations of this captivating culture? 

Who initially envisioned the concept of Korean groups creating music and promoting it on a global scale?

What marketing strategies helped in making this dream a global reality?

Fun Tidbit: In South Korea, there are the legendary “BIG THREE” entertainment companies. One of these titans not only pioneered K-pop, but also made it a hit in South Korea and all over the world!

The name of this entertainment powerhouse?

SM Entertainment!

Photo from: Billboard

SM Entertainment, originally established as SM Studio in 1989, is known as Asia’s top entertainment company. It is popular for starting the global Korean wave, which is also known as “Hallyu.” 

The company is popular for consistently introducing innovative, fresh, and unique concepts in the K-pop industry. As early as the 1990s, SM introduced the groundbreaking notion of “culture technology,” a multifaceted approach encompassing the business’ foundation: culture creation, culture development, and culture expansion. 

Additionally, SM is known for its intricate and imaginative concepts, exemplified by the SM Culture Universe (SMCU), an interconnected lore that unites the narratives of various SM artists and groups.

In fact, there’s an old adage that aptly captures SM’s influence: “What SM creates soon becomes the idol trend,” underscoring the company’s pervasive impact on the K-pop industry. This success can be partly attributed to an individual who demonstrated visionary leadership and effective global networking strategies.

The person behind this achievement?

It’s none other than SM’s founder, Lee Soo Man!

Photo from: Asia Society

Architect of K-Pop Stardom: The Visionary Who Nurtured K-Pop Talent

Lee was raised by musician parents. He began his singing career at the age of 19 while studying at Seoul National University. Years later, he pursued a graduate engineering degree in the U.S. 

During his stay there, he was surprised by the Americans’ reactions to Music Television (MTV) and America’s pop culture. This made him reflect on his singing career and noticed that South Korean fans were more enthusiastic when seeing international bands perform than when seeing him perform folk songs.

So… what did he do following that realization?

Lee returned to Seoul with a dream of establishing a company that would globalize Korean music. Observing the excitement foreign bands generated among audiences, he envisioned creating a similar phenomenon with talents from his own country.

This dream led Lee to establish SM Entertainment, where he became the head producer. In 1996, he formed the group H.O.T, which consisted of five members skilled in singing, rapping, and dancing. Lee believed that this combination would resonate with evolving trends. However, despite the group’s eventual stardom, Lee and SM Entertainment’s journey to success was far from easy.

In the 2000s, SM faced a profitability crisis due to sales decline, emergence of MP3 files, and illegal reproduction of songs. Guided by Lee’s leadership, SM sought to recover by expanding its market in Asia, with a particular focus on China and Japan. However, progress still proved slow. Lee realized Japanese audiences desired younger singers.

This insight led to the emergence of the K-pop industry’s multi-talented South Korean singer, Kwon Boa, also known as BoA. She made her debut in Japan in the 2000s under SM Entertainment, following a comprehensive training system that includes singing, dancing, stage etiquette, and language skills.

BoA’s success left a positive impression on South Korea internationally and paved the way for future K-pop idols. 

Lee’s strategic decisions significantly helped improve SM’s standing. In fact, throughout his career as a producer and founder of a prominent company, he has received multiple accolades. These include the “Best Management Award” at the 2017 Kotler Awards, an honor bestowed upon individuals highly regarded as leaders in global marketing, as well as the “Best CEO Award” at the same event.

Clearly, Lee’s achievements and recognitions serve as evidence that he has achieved his dream of globalizing K-pop and turning it into a worldwide sensation!

What are some marketing strategies that we can learn from him?

  1. Developing a wide vision and creative concepts

Lee believes marketers and business leaders must identify what is missing in the industries they’re in and begin creating unique offerings. He believes this approach elevates a company to a world-class level. SM Entertainment exemplifies this philosophy through distinctive group concepts, and exceptional albums.

  1. Exploring a global market 

Decades ago, SM Entertainment encountered a market crisis that prompted an exploration of global marketing and assessment of other markets’ needs. Under Lee’s leadership, SM demonstrated its ability to provide quality music to a diverse international audience. 

As part of Lee’s legacy, SM currently has groups that actively promote music in Asia, particularly in China and Japan. SM also extensively promotes and holds concerts in several Western countries.

  1. Innovating entertainment during challenging times

In 2020, Lee shared his ideas, particularly on the future of K-pop with robots, avatars, and potential online concerts. He brought the vision of having online concerts to life during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In April of the same year, SM held its first-ever online concert, “Beyond Live,” featuring the band SuperM. This online concert attracted around 75,000 fans.

Also, SM’s recent online concert titled, “SMTOWN 2022: SMCU Express @ Kwangya” achieved record-breaking success with 51 million streams across 161 countries. This achievement set a record for the most streamed online concert in South Korea.


Overall, the lessons we can gain from Lee’s leadership revolve around innovation, creativity, and exceptionality.

As SM’s founder, he has passionately pursued his mission of globalizing South Korean music, transforming it into a widespread cultural phenomenon spanning from South Korea to different countries around the world. His distinct strategies, marked by creativity, exceptional networking, and visionary thinking, have enabled the company to excel and attain global recognition.

Lee’s journey from aspiration to success serves as an inspiring example, demonstrating that creativity is limitless. With the adept management of networks and unwavering determination, your dream of global recognition or expanding your brand’s reach can become a reality! Additionally, commitment to what you have started is key to realizing outstanding results.

As Lee said:

“No genius will ever come out of a life without passion. I’m happy when producing great music and great artists. I really love what I do and will continue to love every minute of it.”

About The Dynamic Marketing Communiqué’s
“Mondays: Marketing Marvels”

Too often, industry experts and the marketing press sing the praises of some brand or company’s marketing strategy. 

… only for the audience to later find out that its product was a flop, or worse, that the brand or company went bankrupt.

The true ROI in marketing can’t be separated from the business as a whole. 

What good is a marketing case study if one can’t prove that the company’s efforts actually paid off?

At the end of the day, either the entire business is successful or it isn’t. And the roles of marketing and communication are always paramount to that success. 

Every Monday, we publish a case study that highlights the world’s greatest marketing strategies, marketers, and communicators. 

However, the difference between our articles and the numerous ones out there is that we will always make certain that the firm really did generate and demonstrate earning power worthy of study in the first place (compliments of Valens Research’s finance group) in keeping with a person’s leadership skills in the area of marketing and/or communication.

We’ll also study the greatest marketing fails and analyze what they did wrong, or what they needed to improve. We all make our mistakes, but better we learn from others’ mistakes—and earlier, rather than later.

Hope you found this week’s marketing marvel interesting and helpful. 

Stay tuned for next Monday’s “Marketing Marvels!”


Kyle Yu
Head of Special Projects
Valens Dynamic Marketing Capabilities
Powered by VX Dynamic

View All

You don’t have access to the Valens Research Premium Application.

To get access to our best content including the highly regarded Conviction Long List and Market Phase Cycle macro newsletter, please contact our Client Relations Team at 630-841-0683 or email client.relations@valens-research.com.

Please fill out the fields below so that our client relations team can contact you

Or contact our Client Relationship Team at 630-841-0683