Vietnamese brands – the artist in street or in theater?

Ngày: 20-04-2013

Joshua in station

That is a cold morning in the underground station in Washington D.C, there is a violinist playing music with a hat in front. The station is very crowded with passengers. After 45 minutes, only a few people curiously stop then go. At last, he earns $32.


The artist quietly takes everything and goes away to the Boston theater nearby. There, every audience has to pay $100 to watch his performance. His name is Joshua Bell, a world famous violinist. With a night performance, he get thousands of dollars.


Indeed, this is a test by Washington Post to evaluate human’s perception about the world around. The result shows that value is sometimes not determined by function. Many people quickly passed the “street artist” Joshua Bell in the underground station but how many of them finally bought an expensive ticket to see the performance of the “famous artist” Joshua Bell at the Boston theater?


The difference is no longer the quality of music, but the fame of the performer. From the view of brand management, brand name has become a factor determining the customer behavior instead of product quality.


Customers don’t buy product, they buy  brand


Starbucks is knocking the door of Vietnam’s coffee market. Many young people are willing to pay several times as much higher as VND 20,000 for a Trung Nguyen coffee cup to buy a Starbucks Italian-styled Espresso. It is not merely because of coffee quality. Starbucks brand name makes difference.


The price of a 250ml Heineken bottle is VND 15,000 which is two times as higher as a Hanoi bottle. However, most of us choose the expensive one when inviting a business partner or friends. it is not which beer is tastier. Heineken brand name makes difference.


Consumers no longer buy products. They buy brands. Young people do not buy coffee but a life-style namely Starbucks. They do not buy beer but confidence namely Heineken.


Walter Landor, the founder of Landor Media, said: “The product is manufactured at factory while brand is established in customer’s mind.”


In the final days of 2012, 3 of 4 biggest fastfood chains in the world present in Vietnam: KFC (already here), Burger King and Starbucks. Conversely, some well-known Vietnamese brands were silently sold to foreign partners: Pho 24, Diana or Prime.


For Vietnamese brands, how they can win the hearts of Vietnamese consumers? And more importantly, how they can become a national proud? Is there any chance for us to drop the status of a “street artist” to become a “theatre artist”?


Success derives from the effective application of marketing rules


Marketing is money, which is proven in reality: Successful brands often spend a lot for marketing. According to Kantar Media, Top 5 brands that spent much on advertising in 2011 are Unilever, P&G, Tan Hiep Phat, Masan and Vinamilk. Why does Gau Do instant noodle succeed? One of the main reasons is that Asia Foods spent nearly 150 billion dollar on Gau Do’s marketing campaign.


It will be not very  reasonable for Tan Hiep Phat, Vinamilk, Masan or Gau Do if we conclude that huge budget is equivalent to successful branding. In addition to the strong financial support, the success of local brands also results from the application of marketing rules.


Masan’s products (Tam Thai Tu soya sauce, Nam Ngu fish sauce, Omachi instant noodle or Tien Vua instant noodle) are all successful because of an only weapon often used by foreign brands: make use of consumer’s fear. The path of Tan Hiep Phat (Dr.Thanh tea, Tra xanh khong do or Number 1) is the copy of giants Coke and Pepsi: spend a lot on bombing advertising and develop widespread distribution system. Both Tan Hiep Phat and Masan have become considerable counterpoint of giants like Unilever or P&G, Coke or Pepsi.


Marketing is also creativity


Peter Drucker, a famous strategy analyst, claimed that “Company has two and only two functions: marketing and creativity. Marketing and creativity create results. Other things are cost only.”


For Vietnamese brands, promoting the national proud in communications message is a great idea. Biti’s can be a typical example with the slogan “Tender care of your feet”. This ad was aired long time ago; however, today many people still remember it: The feet of Lac Long Quan, the feet of Quang Trung heroes, the feet of Vietnamese soldiers, and the feet of children wearing Biti’s.


Any country has the national proud. Vietnamese people are certainly proud and emotional when watching such a message of Biti’s. And they are very successful in creating a brand belief.


Until now, this is one of the rare marketing campaigns of Vietnamese brands that can be compared with foreign brands. Note that Biti’s did not spend a lot for this campaign.


Creativity is priceless. Its value is the sustainable emotional engagement. Unfortunately, there is only a few Vietnamese brands that can do this. Again, the author would like to mention to Trung Nguyen’s recent noise on media.


Regarding the philosophy of promoting spirit “Vietnamese people use Vietnamese goods”, Trung Nguyen must be No.1. In a recent interview with BBC, Mr. Dang Le Nguyen Vu stated that “I want to promote a new value system through coffee. Our philosophy is much more transcendent than Starbucks, which will be proved as time goes by.”


With respect to Trung Nguyen’s ambition, it also can be said that Trung Nguyen seems to get lost in the labyrinthine of brand positioning story.


I agree that Trung Nguyen must create a better philosophy and brand story if it wants to win Starbucks. Mr. Vu is right when saying: The Americans do not need a different product, they need a different story.


However, Vietnamese coffee lovers at the coffee hometown have not seen “a different story” of Trung Nguyen yet. They only see Trung Nguyen’s owner keep criticizing their competitor Starbucks. After claiming that the “mermaid” is “coffee-flavored water with sugar”, he called Starbucks “the giant without a brand essence”.


With its certain position in local market, Trung Nguyen should not have talked about Starbucks so much. Let consumers evaluate whether Starbucks has their own brand spirit or not. There is no need to say things like this statement: “I have 10 Trung Nguyen coffee cups per day”. It does not evoke the patriotism at all.


Love always comes naturally. Instead of noisy criticism, Trung Nguyen should focus on their own story.


Starbucks has done such a great job (if you are skeptical, just read “Pour your heart into it” by Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ owner) and so does Biti’s.



That’s the way to win the customer’s hearts. That’s the way for Vietnamese brands to  become the “famous artist” Joshua Bell at Boston theatre instead of the unknown “street artist” Joshua Bell at the underground station. The reward is great: thousands of dollars instead of a mere sump of $32 for a performance.


That’s how you have both “fame” and “price”.


Nguyễn Đức Sơn

Giám đốc chiến lược thương hiệu – Richard Moore Associates


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