Tom Guerin
Aug 3, 2015

Vietnam catching up on itself

Vietnam is a country of contrasts, says Tom Guerin, managing director for TBWA\Group Vietnam where everything is same same, but different

Vietnam catching up on itself

Vietnam is a country of contrasts, says Tom Guerin, managing director for TBWA\Group Vietnam, where everything is same same, but different

In most countries current generations feel they live in a different world, and think differently, from previous generations. In Vietnam this is exponentially the case.

Many of the country’s changes are obvious while others are more subtle. But traditional values still greatly impact modern consumer mindsets, so how can marketers navigate this?

Vietnam is a challenging market. The economy isn’t growing as strongly as before. The fight for market share is getting harder. Successful brands in the country identify the evolving consumer insights in order to transcend contextual norms, and then take a disruptive approach to reach these ‘new’ consumers. Different categories and segments have their own unique insights, but here are five macro ones that epitomise why and how Vietnamese mindsets are evolving:

The traditional rural/urban divide is quickly fading

In this country of 90+ million people rural and urban are now connected in ways they have never been before. This is a huge shift for Vietnam. The main reason, not surprisingly, is higher smartphone and internet penetration. In 2014, smartphone penetration for younger adults in rural areas rose to 28 per cent and 30 per cent for internet penetration. Rates for the entire nation are 36 per cent for smartphones and 43.8 per cent for internet. News, trends and marketing can now be real time in urban and rural areas. What’s more, the rapidly growing infrastructure takes advantage of Vietnam’s unique compact S-shaped geography to provide rural people unprecedented easy access to urban centres.

Traditional cultural insights fuels modern marketing

Obviously, it’s critical that global companies understand traditional Vietnamese cultural mores. But there is also a need to use modern and creative approaches for effective marketing. The Roche We Care For Her breast cancer awareness campaign is a good example of doing both. Traditionally, Vietnamese culture discourages discussing bad things, such as cancer. It’s taboo. This belief means that the campaign to raise awareness of breast cancer has to do so, paradoxically, without focusing on breast cancer. The light-hearted social/digital/event campaign eschewed traditional breast cancer awareness tactics and became a celebration of Vietnamese women. It makes it an everyday joy, for everyone, to care for the women close to them. The campaign turns people into ambassadors for the cause and it’s significantly increasing awareness of the need to get a breast exam.

Authenticity in marketing: walk the talk

Vinamilk is a company that epitomises authenticity. Vinamilk partnered with The National Fund for Vietnamese Children (NFVC) to create the Million glasses of milk fund for underprivileged Vietnamese children campaign. Instead of relying on a traditional advertising campaign about its vision for a ‘taller Vietnam’, Vinamilk delivered free milk to underprivileged children across the country. From its launch in 2008 the campaign has brought Vietnamese children almost 22 million glasses of milk. By living a brand message, rather than just saying one, Vinamilk has become the top brand in the category and one of the most loved brands in Vietnam.

More savvy consumers: a challenge and an opportunity

As Vietnam consumers become much more sophisticated and discriminating they act in new ways. Just when marketers find consumers are going in one direction, there’s often an undercurrent that leads to the opposite. According to Kantar Worldpanel (2014) 73 per cent of consumers say they are willing to pay a premium for quality products, but consumers are down trading from brands in some categories to save costs. They’re potentially willing to stay with the brand, however, if it’s a better value. That’s one of the reasons why 62 per cent of categories saw an increase in average pack-size. Moreover, individual consumers are increasingly developing distinct brand requirements by category (For example: ‘I’m willing to pay a premium for beauty, but not for household cleaners’).

The approach to capitalism: no stone left unturned

Vietnam has fallen in love with entrepreneurship. Everyone can be both an employee and an employer - at the same time. According to Q&Me Vietnam Market Research, 70 per cent of Vietnamese report having a “regular side job” in 2014. There is also a strong desire to “capitalize on the most precious assets”: time and space. 5KU Station is a fine example. It started as a temporary restaurant built on a piece of land waiting - longer than originally planned - for a new building. It quickly became a successful business model that uses wasted/frozen real estate projects in Ho Chi Minh City. 5KU uses cheap and reusable materials and minimalistic decoration. There are now three 5KU branches in HCMC with 160 employees. Disruptive marketing like this produces new waves of consumers who demand conventions be broken and rules changed.

Tom Guerin is managing director for TBWA\Group Vietnam






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