Ground Up Brand Building in Vietnam

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Vietnam's Matthew Harrison and Anh Thao Vo on making the brands part of the social, cultural, and behavioral fabric of Vietnamese consumerism.

The houses in Vietnam are tall thin structures, occupying a small land footprint, but maximizing the air space above. Most have an open-fronted area on the ground floor that blurs the territory between home and street. The families, often of multiple generations, sleep on the upper floors, but they “live” on this community-exposed ground floor, often opening businesses with direct access to the passing customers.

Driving down any Vietnamese street, you can see people fixing scooters, or cooking food, or selling goods, or just chilling out in these cavernous areas on the ground floors of the houses. Towards the back, a TV screen can be seen flickering. At Geometry, we’ve been exploring how this sense of “living outdoors” plays out in the brand space, and whether there is a correlation between this behavior, and the huge amount of brand-building activity that seems to take place live, and on the street in Vietnam.

Much has been made in the marketing industry of appealing to a generation of consumers who value experiences over “things”. For sure, this is a generational truth, but in Vietnam, it is amplified by the desire to live and thrive amongst the community, unrestricted by living solely within the confines of the home, as is the case in many less culturally collectivist societies (and less warm climates).

There are literally thousands of Promotional Teams working for various brands throughout Vietnam, direct selling to consumers in shopping centers, bars and restaurants, and convenience stores. Activation of these marketing drives can take the form of an iPad game, or a live entertainment experience, or, in the case of one beer brand, an annual street football tournament complete with international stars. Whilst TV and online advertising are important in Vietnam (in the first case to build trust, and in the second to entertain), brands in Vietnam have to first be adept at exploiting the Vietnamese behavior of living outdoors and provide experiences that create Instagrammable memories.

To be better engaged with consumers, the role of the direct sales team is significant. One food and beverage brand spent upwards of 200 billion VND (over 8 million USD) for promotional teams last year. Another competitor spent over 100 bill VND (more than 10% of the annual marketing budget). Reuters quotes an owner of a restaurant in Hanoi claiming that one beer brand with no promotional team to support sales, only accounted for 5% of his total beverage revenue, while another, with a promotional team, accounted for 50%. It pays for a brand to be on the street.

Marrying on-the-ground activities with online amplification of events is key to a brand’s success in Vietnam. The modern Vietnamese consumer doesn’t live either online or offline, but simultaneously does both, so brands must augment their 1-2-1 activities with skillful manipulation of social media and online behaviors: on average, Vietnamese consumers spend around 3 hours per day on mobile internet, over 90% percent of viewers watch video on demand, and around 70% of Gen Z in Vietnam spend more than 3 hours per day watching video.

In a country with a population of 95 million people, where inter-generational family living is common, and much of daily life takes place on the streets, Vietnamese consumers, especially the younger generations, consider their online space as their personal space.

But Vietnamese consumers are also “dual- screeners”. Many households and businesses have the TV “on” but they are not necessarily “watching” it. Around 9 out of 10 Vietnamese TV viewers interact with another device while watching TV. Despite this, Advertising is still the biggest media channel in Vietnam, and TV ads perform well in terms of generating trust and communicating product information. According to Nielsen, 68% of viewers say that TV ads are trusted, while trust in online messaging is only at about 48%.

The successful marketing mix for a Vietnamese consumer, therefore, has to be a delicate combination of on-the-ground entertainment and engagement to harness the outdoor reality of Vietnamese living, viral video, and online engagements to simultaneously amplify and personalize a brand’s more social activities, and offline media to build trust at scale. In other words, ideas and solutions have to be delivered at the moments that matter everywhere commerce touches people’s lives.

It’s fascinating to us, on a mission to ‘reimagine commerce’, to continually be challenged to create the right formula to embed a brand into the Vietnamese cultural psyche, because this is driven by habits and behaviors which are very human, and very particular to the Vietnamese market and its people. Deploying this ground-up approach, we are making the brands we work with part of the social, cultural, and behavioral fabric of Vietnamese consumerism.

Click here to view the article on Branding in Asia.

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