Becoming a Culturally Infused Mass Brand: The Future for Samsung

October 18, 2010

By Guest Blogger Courtney Kelso, American Express

How will the world's largest consumer electronics company, a 40 year old Korean giant known primarily for its engineering prowess, achieve its goal to more than triple its current $120B sales to $400B by 2020? It's already #1 in mobile, #1 in LED TVs, #1 in 3D TVs, #1 in French door refrigerators. How will a company, known primarily for quality products, superior design sensibility, and smart business leaders, meet this challenge? It will spend the rest of this decade focusing on unleashing the full potential of the brand, according to newly appointed CMO Ralph Santana. To meet this herculean task, Samsung won't focus on conventional branding wisdom, but rather it plans to employ cultural branding by 1) infusing cultural meaning into the brand, and 2) reaching the masses with that brand context.  Santana points out people all over the world know what the Samsung brand is, but don't know what it stands for. Samsung is a company where its employees take great pride in creating delight.  But how does this become a brand idea?

Santana spent much of this (surprisingly well attended) session early on Saturday morning discussing Samsung's newest imperative. He explains that for Samsung to be successful in this venture, people must want to buy its product not just because of its technological quality, but because they want to be a part of what the Samsung brand stands for. He brings his expertise from Pepsi, where he points out that that brand is exactly what Samsung will try to become-a mass brand that is culturally relevant to millions all over the world.

A Culturally Meaningful Brand

Santana posits that there are several different types of brands that are culturally relevant, but they don't all serve the same purpose. Observer brands reflect and chase what's happening; they pursue a fast and easy way to be relevant (Go Daddy and Walgreen's he believes are examples of observer brands). A sponsor brand does a deeper job by providing enriching experiences, they enable cultural experiences. Santana points out that brands in this category don't have to be endemic to be relevant, and he points to Adidas, GM, and Mountain Dew as key examples of great sponsor brands. In contrast to the above 2 categories, however, Santana clearly views the curator brand as the aspiration category for Samsung.  A curator brand curates culture; they redefine the experience for consumers.  He points to ESPN, Red Bull, Under Armour and NBC as examples.  

Reaching the Masses with Brand Context

Santana  can speak with some experience about curator brands, and points to his last project at Pepsi and the Pepsi Refresh project as an example of a culturally relevant, mass brand igniting a conversation about giving back. The Pepsi Refresh Project's main communications strategy was to ignite a conversation in the digital and social space. By employing only social media and what Santana calls "narrowcasting"-Santana feels that they weren't able to breakthrough as significantly as they would have liked. His key learning was that they needed to make sure the idea was getting enough exposure; they weren't able to reach the tipping point. Santana points out that mass brands are having tougher and tougher times. There has been a striking increase in distrust, consumers have siphoned off into micro communities, and often display an ADD-like mentality.  Back in the broadcast heydays, the masses were more easily reached because of the relatively narrow set of options consumers had to watch-brands could "buy their way into bigness." Today, the broadcast medium can still be effective, but it's a blunt instrument. Marketers have almost overcorrected by using "narrowcasting" to find and reach these micro-targets, but he reminds us there is a hidden cost to narrowcasting-the more you segment, the more costly the effort, making it "hard to buy the love you need."


Given all of these new realities in today's media landscape, Santana recommends what he calls "culture-casting"- unleashing the power brand in a brave new media world. Culture-casting helps to infuse cultural meaning and reaches the masses. To do this, a brand must:

  • Know the brand's space in culture
  • Identify culturally relevant idea with a mass sensibility
  • Strike a balance between broad and narrow casting
  • Strive to be a curator brand

I, for one, will be watching Samsung closely over the next several years to see if this brand focus will help it to deliver its aggressive growth goals. I will also be eagerly checking out the new Samsung Galaxy Tablet which Santana deftly held just out of our reach, as it appears to be a nice pocket sized tablet computer powered by Samsung engineering.


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