korea-flagA generation ago, South Korea was an impoverished nation whose economy relied primarily on agriculture. In 1960, Korea’s per capita gross national product was less than the Sudan’s and not even one-third the size of Mexico’s.

Today, Korea enjoys the world’s 13th largest economy–a transformation so dramatic it has been called “the Asian miracle.”

Initially, Korea scrabbled out of poverty by imitating the technological advances of other nations and selling me-too, low-cost products. But its recent explosive growth is attributable to a systematic, sustained and government-supported focus on innovation.

Korean innovators often receive financial aid from public sources, but now many small and medium enterprises (SMEs) say what they need more than money are the intangibles, including branding.

Miga Medical is one such company. It developed a product that purportedly reduces the size of the human waistline and named it, “N-Body.”

As reported by JoonAng Daily, “the company took six years to develop the product but only spent six minutes to pick a name for it.”

A Miga Medical executive ruefully admits, “We put tremendous effort into developing the product, but were neglectful in naming the brand. Promoting the brand name was a mess. Even employees here don’t really know the meaning of N-Body.”

Miga Medical sought the expertise of Seoul branding agency, whose president Kim Wang-gi says that this is not an uncommon problem among SMEs.

“So many SMEs have been developing outstanding products, but have failed to commercialize them because of poor brand names. That’s the reality of SMEs today,” Kim said.

“A brand name that intuitively and easily tells the product’s functions is crucial.”

Unfortunately, branding also gets the short-shrift from many U.S. entrepreneurs in their rush to market. Many mistakenly believe that naming should be easily handled in-house because, after all, they’ve successfully named their children and pets, so why not their brand? (Apparently they have not yet wandered in the trademark jungle in search of an effective name that’s also available for trademark.)

Others may consider it an intangible that’s not worth paying for. They’ll spend thousands on a Web site that will need to be overhauled in a few years, but won’t invest in a name that will affect their business for the life of the brand.

Branding is an investment, and an effective brand will deliver ROI for years to come. A weak or meaningless brand will be a drag on business forever.

Small- and medium-sized businesses in Korea are figuring this out. We hope more American innovators will too.