An effective brand strategy is one of the most important aspects of any business, large or small, retail or B2B. Especially here in Vietnam you need strong branding to compete in a tough market. Let us shed some light on what makes the Vietnamese market different from other regions and why it can be a tough nut to crack.
One of the youngest, fastest and most active markets in the world, Vietnam offers political stability and steady expansion. People in Vietnam are about to rise from relative poverty to become strong, well-funded consumers.
To set up a successful branding strategy in Vietnam, it is necessary not only to understand the quirks of an emerging market, but also Vietnamese culture. Let us look at the demographics first.
Like everywhere else, women are drawn towards fashion and promises of beauty, although the independent lady in red is not too popular here yet. Vietnamese women tend to be drawn to cute and feminine designs. Family and children are still a major focus, and with the growing awareness of environmental issues, so are health and safety.
Like everywhere else again, men are attracted to branding that speaks of strength and success. However, the Vietnamese also are drawn quite strongly towards technology. Maybe that’s because there are so many graduates in the banking, business and IT sectors, or because of the central role of technology in an emerging market.
Elderly people are still very traditional and family is even more important to them. Growth, safety and other promises that support the concept of family as a safe haven are most effective for this group of people.
Young people love Western influences, from skateboards and graffiti to shirts with prints in English that sometimes even make sense. But however much they are into Captain America, they still are deeply rooted in Vietnamese culture and for a variety of reasons prefer local brands to cover their daily needs.
What all generations have in common is that family is usually more important than the individual. Together with their amazing optimism, the will always to put the family first is the greatest strength of the Vietnamese people and a big opportunity for brand management.
The Use of Language
The fact that Vietnam uses the Roman alphabet may fool the aspiring brand developer into thinking the choice of their brand name is easier than in China. Not really. The Vietnamese language is monosyllabic and that is how people read a brand name. Long, foreign words look complicated and are often too hard to get one’s head around in order to generate affinity.
The shorter the better. Nestle and its water is a good example. In Vietnam it is branded La Vie, “life” in French. Very easy for Vietnamese speakers to read, comprehend and memorise.
Foreign Brand Name or Vietnamese?
English names work well in Vietnam as long as they sound “nice”. Just take a look at some of the top native brands in the country: Vinamilk, Highlands Coffee, Vietnam Airlines, MBBank, Mobifone, Viettel and so on. Of course, except for the first two, many brands are targeted not solely at local consumers and also have their eyes on international or at least ASEAN expansion.
Successful big brands with pure Vietnamese branding would be Trung Nguyen or Phuc Long, for example. Other brand names are short and “nice”, even if they (seemingly) possess no meaning.
The language in which the brand is named doesn’t matter that much. What matters is that people can grasp the meaning of the word(s) and in case it’s foreign, that it’s easy to follow. Exceptions are brands that are mainly targeted at foreigners or Vietnamese with “foreign” aspirations. Travel agencies for example work much better with international names.
When it comes to colours, the approach in Vietnam is the same as in China. Red is the colour of strength, luck and success. Yellow is gold and means prosperity. Black and white, though the traditional colours of death, are nowadays symbols of minimalism and focus. Blue is clean and green is natural.
In Europe, we can decide to look cheap if we want to draw the customer’s eyes to our low prices. In Vietnam, that doesn’t work at the moment because if you want cheap products you head for the local market and street vendor stalls on Nguyen Trai. No brand is meant to look cheap. Developing a brand in Vietnam means communicating that something has value, no matter what pricing scheme you use.
The relatively new Trung Nguyen Legend concept that pops up on every corner is a good example. The product, though better than street coffee, is not really high-end. But the branding appeals because it communicates high standards.Black and gold, together with the word “Legend” – talk about posh stuff.
Brands that appeal to the increasingly affluent group of customers will communicate quality with a stylish and simplistic design as well as colour palate. The aforementioned black and white are increasingly popular among many brands all over the country, even if it is just to be different from the colourful clutter that makes the ad landscape in Southeast Asia as lovely as it is complicated. Sometimes it’s better to whisper than to shout.
Market Trinity in Vietnam
Vietnam is actually not one market but three. The applicable strategies may differ strongly between the North, the South and the Centre.
Hanoi and the Northern provinces are very traditional and judge a brand or product on the high value it exudes. Status symbols and quality presentation matter more than in the other regions.
Even more traditional than the North, people are strongly rooted in the old ways. Hue is the imperial centre of the Nguyen dynasty, after all. You can communicate high value, safety and family orientation, but innovation is not yet a part of people’s daily lives.
Much more open to innovation, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Lat and other urban areas of the Southern provinces drive the country to new heights. Many brands start here and once they are established, begin the arduous journey northwards. Saigon is where you try your new concept and see whether it leads to roaring success or dire loss.
And here we enter the world of status symbols and their position in an emerging market like Vietnam. One of the first things you notice upon coming to Asia may be the high number of luxury cars. As soon as somebody can afford a Bentley, they will drive one. Of course exceptions define the rule, and some successful business people drive their Mercedes to meetings while they use their good old Honda Wave motorbike to buy groceries.
Communicating value, success and quality is a part of brand development in Vietnam as much as in other emerging Asian economies. Contrary to Europe, where a puritan mentality is ingrained by tradition, in Asia a person is judged by what they show off. If you have wealth to present to the world, you must be successful because people must be buying your product or service. Hence, it must be good.
Protect Your Brand
One important consideration: if you create your brand in Vietnam, consult a specialised lawyer who can help you register and protect it. Success draws in copycats, and without legal protection it may be hard to stand your ground.
Unlike patents or copyrights, where you generally only need to claim ownership once on the basis of a novel product or service, a trademark must be actively and continually asserted. Vietnam has made progress in these areas, but there is still some way to go.
For more information on this, be sure to read our article on Protecting Your Assets.