We asked three in-market experts for their take on the prospects for local versus global brands in Thailand.
- Nunthana Boriphuntanon, brand development director, TBWA Thailand
- Andrew Chu. ECD, GreynJ United
- Yupin Muntzing, CEO, McCann Worldgroup Bangkok
How much growth opportunity is there for global brands in Thailand?
Boriphuntanon: Thailand’s consumer market is relatively mature. Its potential to grow remains high with its economy poised for sustained, productivity-driven growth within the next five years in the midst of ongoing urbanisation and the rise of the middle-income class. Customer spending is growing, especially on lifestyle products and services, with a focus on quality, convenience, and high-level of service. Moreover, most global brands doing marketing in Thailand are well-known and perceived as quality brands.
Thailand is ranked one of the least miserable countries, meaning Thai people tend to find joy in their everyday lives—and therefore, global brands should take this opportunity to capture such ‘happiness’ and ‘enjoyment’ spirits in order to associate them to their brands.
Muntzing: With the current plan of Thailand to achieve sustainable development, the same as local brands, global brands have good opportunity to drive growth despite slow economic growth.
Chu: Despite that Thais can be considered as one of the most patriotic nations, locals still admire global brands and do consider them as the benchmark for quality. So it doesn’t necessarily mean that a product ‘Made in Thailand’ would be favoured versus one that is made in Europe, for example. A brand that comes from a Western culture automatically shapes the perception in the local consumers’ mind, to not only be better in terms of grade, but also brings a sense of status. This is due to their advantage of being part of pop culture and their association with A-list celebrities, which often sets the trend amongst local consumers.
How are local brands trying to take on big brands in Thailand and what are the key rules/best practices for those trying to do so?
Chu: Local brands tend to be more competitive in terms of pricing, as they offer a more affordable alternative to global brands. Price aside, local brands have the advantage of playing ‘home’—which means that they are in a better position to understand the local market. Not only in terms of the wants and needs of Thai consumers, but they can be better at connecting with their audience as they share the same values and culture. Being ‘closer’ also allows local brands to be more relevant and gives them the unique opportunity to be more topical in their communication message and strategy.
Muntzing: The knowledge of Thai market is the key. Any brands that want to win, they must have deeper knowledge of local culture, deeper local connections and deeper understanding of consumers and media scene.
Boriphuntanon: Since Thailand is in a startup bubble, with many new startups sprouting and growing, most local brands in Thailand start from SMEs and are driven by their unique concept/idea. SMEs in Thailand usually start out small as individual entities, starting their shops on social-media sites and slowly expanding to markets outside of their phones. While the shift is gradual, it takes practice to understand customers and how to fulfil their needs in the long run.
What can global brands learn from local brand marketing?
Boriphuntanon: Local brand marketing, especially in Thailand, is often based on trends and people who follow those trends in a particular region. Brands need to take time to learn about these trends and distinguish what they can capitalise on and what they need to avoid. However, such trends are usually short-lived, and therefore all brands, both global and local, are required to be flexible in order to align with such trends and to stay interesting, unique, current and memorable.
One Thai brand that develops real-time content related to the Thai lifestyle is Wongnai. This brand is known for coming up with creative content relating to talk-of-the-town topics.
Secondly, using the appropriate social media channels to communicate with the right target audience is highly important for global brands doing marketing in Thailand. Since social media usage amongst Thais is so high, they face a huge amount of content and information every day, resulting in information overload and fatigue. Therefore, appealing and up-to-date content needs to be communicated via the correct social channels in order to reach specific target audiences.
Muntzing: An advantage of local brands is there’s no process that led from the center to be followed. To win, global brands need to strike the right balance between the global and local framework, have deep knowledge of human truths and find your authentic connection.
Chu: It is essential for global brands to understand each local market, especially in Asia. While neighbouring countries can share many similarities in terms of norms and traditions, they can also have huge cultural differences. Each country will also have different political or religious traditions that a global brand should take into consideration when deploying their marketing campaign.
Understanding the local audience will allow global brands to have a conversation with their consumers, rather than investing millions in a message that would alienate them. Whether it is in Thailand or any other market, consumers are all people at the end of the day, so humanizing a brand could be the key to winning consumers’ hearts.