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ERIC B. KIM:
MARKETING'S MIRACLE MAN


Intel taps Eric Kim to launch a new brand that will put the company at the center of the convergence between personal computing and consumer electronics.

by George Tang









GOLDSEA | BUSINESS

Marketing's Miracle Man

ven before being tapped last September to become Intel's worldwide marketing boss, Eric Kim was a posterboy for the multi-cultural promise embodied by Asian American professionals. The Corean (Korean) American had earned high praise in both ancestral and adopted homelands by making the Samsung brand just about as cool as Sony's.

     At the time Kim had joined Samsung in 1999, he retained enough Corean language and culture to avoid gross social blunders. On the other hand, he had acquired enough American directness to make a difference. He was dubbed “an American who eats kimchi” by Corean colleagues. After quickly working his way up to the top of Samsung's global marketing department, Kim unified the Corean electronics giant's fragmented advertising expenditures into a single worldwide image campaign built around surreally sexy and futuristic images.

     “I convinced the company we had to have a single message,” Kim explained. “We were the new kids on the block, and the block was noisy.”

     Kim also rolled up his sleeves to help make key products more appealing in global markets. He ordered a redesign of the Nexio PDA to add a bigger screen, a keyboard and a wireless connection before its U.S. debut. He also pushed to get Samsung products into more upscale retail outlets to improve its affinity with with affluent consumers.



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     By 2003 young consumers were ogling Samsung cellphones and flat-panel TVs the way their parents once lusted after Sony products. That image change made the difference between struggling to eke out razor-thin commodity margins and enjoying fat profits as a consumer favorite.

     The sincerest applause came from global investors. By the end of 2004 Samsung's market valuation had risen to $62 billion. Not only was that higher than Sony's, it dispelled memories of bleak IMF days when patriotic Coreans were melting down family heirlooms to help ease the currency crisis, and Samsung seemed on the verge of bankruptcy. In 2004 Samsung racked up after-tax profits of $9.5 billion — tops among electronics and hardware companies and second globally only to Microsoft's.

     On September 15, 2004, just as Kim was being hailed as Samsung's miracle worker, he agreed to return to his adopted homeland to head up marketing for Intel. The world's leading chipmaker was feeling the squeeze from selling a commodity product in a mature market. It turned to Eric Kim to restore the kind of profit margins that can only come from favored positioning deep within the consumer psyche. Kim's mission would be to convince consumers that the company that had been at the heart of the PC revolution can deliver the long-overpromised “convergence”, the seamless melding of the PC with the myriad boxes that have been delivering entertainment.

     “Intel was one of the companies that sort of drove the PC revolution,” explains Kim, who began working at Intel on November 15 of 2004. “So the Intel brand is in many ways synonymous with PCs. We think that is not sufficient anymore. We need to link our brand with a strong emotional bond based on delivering against user's needs.”

     Will Kim turn to sexy models wearing colorful outfits and moving to hip beats as he did with Samsung? That's something to be worked out with New York-based McCann Erickson, the Interpublic Group agency charged with the creative side of the big image campaign to launch this summer in preparation for the Intel consumer brand's fall debut. How well Intel makes the transition from a gearhead brand to an object of consumer lust will be the ultimate test for the new miracle man of marketing.

     Eric Kim was born in Seoul, Corea in 1954. He was 11 when his family immigrated to Los Angeles. Originally contemplating a career in the sciences, Eric majored in physics at Claremont's Harvey Mudd College. He went on to get a masters in engineering at UCLA, then added a Harvard MBA. Kim cut his business teeth at Lotus Development, Dun & Bradstreet and a New York tech venture capital firm called Spencer Trask Software Group.

     Kim enjoys spending weekends with his wife, two children and his jazz and classical music collection. For exercise he likes hiking the local mountains.


“We were the new kids on the block, and the block was noisy.”

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