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red’s Oi Magazine contribution – Brand Aid

red’s Oi Magazine contribution – Brand Aid

Blog article entry on: Jul 10, 2013

This month, Oi Magazine asked red brand builders’ Managing Director, Chris Elkin, to share his thoughts on the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of building a brand in Vietnam – particularly for international brands aiming to understand and connect with the local Vietnamese market place.

Chris shares his thoughts in the article below…


 Brand Aid – from Oi Magazine
The do’s and don’ts of building a brand
Text by Chris Elkin

It can be both comical and controversial how some international brands can misunderstand their local customers and their culture. There are countless stories where brands have failed to connect because they misunderstood what was necessary to create the genuine trust, relevance and acceptance their customers are looking for.

Certain companies often fail to realize that as the living standards of Vietnamese people have increased, so too have their expectations of what life (and the products they buy) should offer them not only on a functional but emotional level.

I increasingly hear customers in research focus groups shouting “excite me,” “uplift me,” “give me something new” – but what they’re really saying is “understand me.”

Why is this emotional understanding of customers so important? Well, because people essentially choose brands to express their personalities. Often what they eat, drink, wear, play and live with every day actually defines them to their friends, family, colleagues and society.

International brands that struggle in Vietnam often lack a clear understanding of local cultural insights and buying behavior. Worse, some have caused unintended laughs or even controversy. The following are several companies that can use better market research to improve how they connect with their audiences:

Dole Bananas

The company was asked to remove a signage because it was causing too much distraction in supermarkets. Woman found it either humorous or somewhat offensive as the imagery used was, to them, phallic. Further market research informed Dole that local women always break their bananas into two equal pieces before eating them to avoid any suggestive or lewd interpretations.

Gloria Jean’s Coffee

This café chain got into hot water when it ran a campaign that offered discounts to women over 1.65 metres tall. Outrage and negative comments within the local blogging community rapidly ensued at what they considered to be insensitive and discriminative.


This TV commercial demonstrated how careful brands need to be when it comes to translation. Simply following what appears to be a literal translation of a TV script sent from their overseas branch, the young lady’s response to her mother-in-law’s question was considered disrespectful between a daughter and an elder.

To avoid the many brand building pitfalls, here’s a summary of a three-step process to help businesses create, shape and localize brands with impact to drive sales and loyalty in the Vietnamese market place.

Step 1 – Contact

It’s important to make ‘contact’ with your target audience, competition and local market place. It’s critical to re-appraise the changes that are happening out there regularly. Go out with your core team to observe, meet, question and listen to your target customers to evaluate how your competitors are adapting and ultimately to seek out new and critical insights into the ‘drivers and barriers’ influencing why a customer currently chooses your brand – or not. This can, of course, include using the support of a marketing research agency to validate your findings.

Step 2 – React

With your newfound local insights you can now ‘react’ to what you’ve learned and build the foundations of a distinctive, locally relevant ‘brand personality.’ Ask yourself tough questions. Analyze and question why your brand exists, define what your brand will really stand for locally and how it will build an emotional connection that’s truly relevant to your chosen target customers. If you and your team are not 100 percent clear and aligned on what your brand stands for and how it will differentiate itself from the competition, then your target customers have no hope of understanding. Your ‘brand personality’ should be defined clearly, agreed on by your senior management and documented succinctly so that you are all on the same page before you begin to spend any money on advertising or engaging with your target customers.

Step 3 – Attract

After step two, you can now decide how your brand will be expressed, consistently, to attract your customers. Brands need to be expressed through a mixture of supporting communication elements, including your brand logo, identity, locally relevant colors, imagery, icons, messaging, advertising, PR events, website and social media.

To be locally relevant and appealing, it’s even more important that you align your whole team (local and from overseas) around the same set of key messages and promotional offers that ensure your brand stands out from the clutter and appeals to your customers in new ways to form an emotional connection.

Simplify your marketing and your messages as much as possible. Consider all the possibilities for cultural differences and potential misunderstandings.

Don’t simply translate existing messages that may be used by your brand in other countries but truly understand how the locals will interpret what you communicate. Assess whether your brand offering is relevant or is allowing your audience to express themselves through it in a socially acceptable way. Your ultimate goal is to ensure that your target customers buy your brand and, more importantly, recommends it to family and friends.

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