Key Opinion Leaders: Influencing Retail Decisions in Vietnam
The term “influencer marketing” is a common marketing buzzword used globally by brands and advertising agencies to target specific groups of consumers by involving an individual or personality with a strong social media presence to create branded and unbranded content.
Influencers—also generally referred to as Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs)—are seen as both ambassadors for a particular brand and a representation of the typical consumer with an opinion that goes far and wide, thereby being able to influence consumer choices.
By helping to build awareness and sales among a target demographic—usually the tech-savvy and those who spend more time online than in front of the television—influencer marketing is on its way to becoming more popular than traditional marketing tactics relying on print and television ads.
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The Country’s Influencers in Various Industries
So who are the notable influencers in Vietnam today?
According to Influence Asia Council, Vietnamese influencers are listed in various categories. Well-known “Beauty” KOLs include: Changmakeup, Chloe Nguyen, Trinh Pham and Quynh Anh Shyn.Decao, Chau Bui and Kelbin Lei are sought after for their opinions on fashion. And for food, Helen Le, Kiyoshi Jiro, Ninh Tito and Esheep Kitchen top the charts in terms of followers and social media reach.
Other content categories where these figures are active include health, lifestyle and parenting. YouTube personalities such as An Nguy, Pho Dac Biet, JVEvermind and HuyMe Productions are also constantly engaged by brands to incorporate branded and unbranded content into their channels.
Becoming an Influencer
Celebrity endorsements on television commercials are still a common marketing tool for brands. However, these commercials are mostly staged and the personality in question may or may not actually be using these products.
This is part of what gives the opinions of KOLs a stronger edge. They typically have active Instagram and Facebook accounts specialising in a particular topic, and they start to gain recognition as an opinion leader.
Beauty bloggers for example, often start off by highlighting products which they feel are best for their skin and by applying the products in front of a camera. They then post reviews about the product. This format gives consumers a chance to see the products in action, with a credible review by someone who actually used it.
Sometimes the road to becoming an influencer can appear by chance. For example, when popular YouTube content—like video game commentary by bloggers like PewdiePie, or even videos of new products getting unboxed by tech geeks—receive high viewer numbers the content creator can be transformed into an influencer.
GIF source: Chloe Nguyen
Almost Everyone Online Follows One
In Vietnam, influencer marketing has reached new heights with global brands such as Samsung getting into the fray. Samsung recently launched their Galaxy S9 phone with a campaign featuring YouTube personalities creating content using the phone’s camera and highlighting its enhanced slow motion feature.
More than 60 percent of internet users of all age groups in Vietnam have interacted with an influencer by either liking or sharing their content, according to consumer research firm DI Marketing.
Nearly half of internet users have gone one step further and commented directly on the content.
Most internet users in the country rely on Facebook or YouTube to follow influencers. According to a 2016 survey by DI Marketing, 84 percent of respondents follow an influencer on Facebook, 61 percent on YouTube and 59 percent rely on online news sites. The wide reach of these influencers is the main reason why marketers in the country are resorting to social networks as a key marketing channel.
Three Modes of Engagement
There are three styles that define the way influencers and brands interact.
The first is that of mutual benefit.
Influencers and brands can share a symbiotic relationship by giving influencers the freedom to post content the way they always do, while incorporating the brand’s message. This was achieved by Samsung Vietnam, with the Samsung Insider Circle, a community made up of invited influencers with tailor-made content for the brand. This allows influencers to post Samsung-related content on their own channels without veering away from their usual content and still get paid for it.
One example would be the social media campaign for the new Galaxy S9 phone where KOLs such as beauty blogger Chloe Nguyen released videos of her usual makeup routines that were shot on the phone, using its “super slo-mo” function and uploaded on her Facebook and Instagram accounts. Although the actual video was unbranded, the captions that accompanied the videos, including the hashtags #samsung_vietnam and #WithGalaxyS9 were more than enough for audiences to know what camera the videos were shot on.
The second style is drawing the KOLs by designing events tailored to the influencer’s needs.
Influencer marketing is still a very new trend and many brands view influencers as a media channel, instead of a creative in their own right. Le Meridien Saigon solved this by offering a 6-month long campaign that invited influencers to give workshops and be a part of the hotel’s coterie of luminaries.
The third style is to provide a real experience.
The current practice among beauty brands is to provide a sample of their product to an influencer to showcase and review, which usually yields a positive response by the influencer.
For the launch of beauty brand Kiehl’s’ Calendula line for example, they created a creative concept titled Peace, Love and Calendula and sent out physical invites to influencers for an event at Takashimaya Saigon. At the event, beauty bloggers were invited to the Kiehl’s counter to get exclusive access to the products, and the chance to meet their fans while at it.
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This turned what could have just been a digital campaign, into an interactive, offline experience where products could be seen and touched and the audience could see the product applied in real time on their favourite personality, instead of just through a cold photograph or video on their newsfeed.
If You’re Big, It Pays
As the relationship between brand and influencer continues to evolve, with more integrated brand messaging platforms thanks to digital marketing agencies and influencer platforms innovating ways to reach bigger audiences, being an influencer might just be a legitimate career path for those seeking to establish themselves as a credible source of information, while enjoying the spotlight and the many benefits that come with it.
YouTube pays the most, according to Forbes. Those with 7 million followers earned US$300,000 for sponsored content. On Facebook and Instagram, the influencers reported earnings roughly half that.
Influencer platforms such as Hiip, the largest in Vietnam, has a database of over 2000 influencers with a clientele that includes international brands such as Heineken and Unilever. There are also dedicated media production companies such as Yeah1 Network that specialise in working together with influencers to create video content for them in partnership with brands.
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Ultimately, it is up to the influencer to determine if they want to be a credible source of information for their followers, or turn into a media channel themselves by becoming the bridge between brand and consumer, or in an ideal situation, striking the right balance between both. This can only be done by being particular with the campaigns they choose to get themselves into and not be bogged down by posting content they don’t believe in.
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