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PR-based integrated agencies are best equipped to face the future of brand communication in Vietnam

Brands in Vietnam should funnel marketing budgets to community and opinion leader engagement instead of traditional media buying.

A new study by ASEAN based agency Vero outlines a shift of brand trust among Vietnamese consumers, from traditional advertising channels to community generated brand endorsement. Brands Vietnam sat with Mr. Raphael Lachkar – Vero’s Director in Vietnam to learn more about the agency’s take on the future of the industry.

Vero is an ASEAN-based agency that has been advising brands in Vietnam for more than 10 years. At the beginning of 2019, they started from scratch with a new IMC-focused office in Ho Chi Minh City under director Raphael Lachkar.  

Lachkar previously led Vero’s office in Yangon, Myanmar, navigating a market ecosystem that was rapidly transforming under the influence of the internet and the entrance of international business. Last year, Vero’s Myanmar campaign ‘6 Months Mother’s Milk Is All You Need’ for Save the Children, UNICEF, and Alive & Thrive won two gold medals at the 2019 PR Awards Asia for Southeast Asia PR Campaign of the Year and Best Cause-Related Campaign. 

To gain a similar level of expertise in Vietnam, Vero have conducted independent research to understand the evolving Vietnamese market and its major generational differences. Now available for free on the agency’s website, the new study shows that Vietnam’s younger generations relate differently to brand communication channels, and how online born influencers are becoming the most influential actors in a brand’s media ecosystem.

We sat with M. Lachkar to hear more about Vero, and to discuss his views on some of the study’s most striking results.

Vero is PR born, IMC grown. Would you say that is a strength in today’s media landscape?

Historically, Public Relations in Vietnam was restricted to media relations, corporate communications, and crisis management, while advertising firms got the lion’s share of the larger consumer work. However, we now know how the global digital shift has blurred the lines. Creating buzz and reaching outside your media budget is part of any consumer campaign’s goals today – it’s all about earned publicity, not paid. And who better than PR firms to rule the earned scene?

Would you say that this is relevant to Vietnam though?

Yes! Not only do we see that the most powerful awareness channels in Vietnam are digital, but we also know for a fact that among younger generations, trust in paid communication channels is on the decline. All traditional means of brand communication are less powerful than before. That includes social ads, TVCs, and physical sales reps, for instance. We recently conducted a study in Hanoi and HCMC to better understand how Millennials and Generation Z relate to brand communication channels. We found that the only media outlets that buck the trend of declining trust are influencers.

We also found out about the kinds of influencers Vietnamese audiences prefer. They go for strong personalities who know how to handle themselves online – often because they have only ever been online influencers. These influencers are a lot closer to publishers than what advertising channels typically look like. As a matter of fact – and this is where we can measure influencers’ true potential – only 30% of respondents (Gens Y and Z combined) told us that they saw influencers as similar to advertising. Seventy percent, meanwhile, told us that they like when influencers endorse products or services, even if the influencers are getting paid to do it. As you would expect, this drives a shift in interest from celebrity macro influencers to smaller, online-born KOLs who depend on the quality and the relevancy of their content to survive, which means their editorial lines have to be more engaging and interesting to their followers, and our job as a communication agency becomes more strategic. We’ve collected the results from that study into a white paper that’s available for free at: https://vero-asean.com/vietnams-new-influencers/

What are your recommendations to brands, and how do they affect the way you work?

Like most agencies today, we see budgets shifting from traditional media buying towards community and opinion leader engagement. This is changing the way we shape campaigns, since we no longer focus on designing ads, but on curating desired conversations. One of our clients is Central Group Vietnam, who have organized Vietnamese Goods Week in Thailand for a couple of years now in order to promote Vietnamese goods and culture. The client came to us because they would like to strengthen their brand’s reputation as an advocate for Vietnamese products and culture abroad. We supported them with several storytelling modes. Of course, we pitched stories of successful Vietnamese brands to Thai media, but we also brought in two popular vloggers, Giang Oi and Dino Vu, to join the event. These vloggers participated in a game during Vietnam Goods Week, where they competed to see who could distribute the most product samples at a Thai shopping mall. The idea was to make an impression on Thai people by getting them to engage with the products, explore the stories behind them, and create a connection to the brand via the blogger. Of course the bloggers also shared video of the activity online and got plenty of engagement. I think more brands should look at this sort of personal, interactive experience as a fun and effective way to stand out from the crowd.

"Vlogger Giang Oi and Dino Vu at the event Vietnamese Goods Week in Thailand"

Aside from Central Group, what other projects are you working on at the moment?

We currently advise international brands including AirAsia, Daikin, ONE Championship and Intel on their positioning and media outreach strategies. And like most other agencies, we are currently planning for 2020 and wrapping up exciting campaigns, a few of which we believe could win awards.

Vero has a regional footprint, and you get to keep an eye on how markets in the region are growing. Should brands and agencies look forward to 2020 in South East Asia?

Of course! First of all, I have to say that 2019 has been one of our most eventful years so far. We won regional awards, grew the team by 30%, brought on great new clients, and opened two new offices (in Vietnam and Indonesia). Southeast Asia continues to be the most exciting region to do business, and Vietnam is especially dynamic. We also see that the region’s economic centers shifting away from the North, as the Chinese trade war and events in Hong Kong are pushing brands to turn to new growth opportunities. For many of them, coming to Southeast Asia is the best decision they could make.

Vero recently re-launched in Vietnam. Do you want to tell us what this is all about?

Vero has been advising brands in Vietnam for over 10 years. Until the end of 2018, our service offers focused on corporate PR consulting with local support from some of our regional accounts. Earlier this year, we decided to reshape our investment in Vietnam from scratch, so we exited the local partnership we were in and started a new, 100% owned, fully stacked IMC agency. All our other offices are following the same format, and among them Vietnam is probably growing the fastest. It’s an incredible market to be in right now, and we’re very happy to have made this investment.

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