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Attitudinal shift

Released at: 16:56, 23/09/2017

Attitudinal shift

Photo: Viet Tuan

Views among Vietnamese consumers towards brands, both local and foreign, continue to change over time.

by Mr. Ralf Matthaes / Founder and Managing Director of Infocus Mekong Research

Ask any experienced marketer and they will tell you: a brand is a promise. A promise of delivering either efficacy or a functional or emotive benefit. In Vietnam, over a decade ago, Vietnamese believed a brand to be a logo, vector, and / or status symbol (70 per cent). How times have changed. In the most recent Brand & Advertising survey conducted by Infocus Mekong Research in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, 50 per cent of respondents noted a brand to be a promise, compared to only 10 per cent 17 years ago. The survey’s objective is to track opinions and perceptions of Vietnamese consumers over time, with a focus on their attitudes towards both foreign and local brands as well as advertising impact. The survey can be used as a guideline to monitor attitudinal trend shifts but should not be deployed exclusively for making marketing decisions. 

As Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon noted: “A brand is what people say about you when you leave the room.” With the advent of the internet, Google search, blogging, and digital marketing, brands have begun to mean much more to consumers, as these forums have given them a voice and opinion that enable them to share their views in the greater digital community. 
By reviewing how brands were perceived years ago compared to today, marketers can gain insights and understanding on how to better position and above all communicate their brands with today’s ever-evolving consumers. 

Is a brand’s country of origin important?

In Vietnam, a brand’s country of origin still holds value, even in today’s more brand-savvy marketplace. Only seven years ago, one-third of consumers believed a brand name to be more important than its country of origin. Today, with many brand scares and food safety and hygiene issues, brand origin is more important than ever, with three-quarters agreeing that country of origin is more important than the brand. Reader beware, though: not every country benefits from this, as we know that both Chinese and Cambodian brands typically are not very well received by Vietnamese consumers. 

Overall, Vietnamese brands have made huge strides forward over the last decade, with 60 per cent of consumers preferring Vietnamese brands and equating them to be of similar standard to international brands, largely driven by brands such as Vinamilk, Viettel, and FPT. However, this mostly depends on the category. Typically, the more expensive a category is, the more the preference for foreign brands, as well as food, which is driven by these recent food hygiene issues. 

Are ads just selling stuff?

Advertising and quality

Source: Infocus Mekong Research

Consumers in Vietnam view advertising for brands very differently today than in decades past. Gone are the days of taking advertising at face value, as witnessed by the decline, by half, in beliefs that advertising is typically done for higher quality products, which are the best products or services to buy. 

Though less literal in terms of the interpretation of advertising, ads still have a definite impact on urban consumers. Three-quarters of those surveyed noted that advertising heavily influences their brand choice, a rise of 34 per cent in the past six years alone and highlighting the fact that Vietnamese are becoming much more brand aware and astute about brands’ intrinsic benefits. 

Conversely, consumers also note that they wish to have more information about the functional benefits of brands (66 per cent). Obviously, for some categories and brands, such as Coca-Cola and Starbucks, functionality is not part of their repertoire, as they are selling an experience or emotive benefit. Other categories, such as mobile phones, health food, or pharmaceuticals should take note of the need for more functional content, to help expand consumer knowledge and, hence, entice consumer spending. 

Foreign advertisements’ impact on vietnamese culture

Source: Infocus Mekong Research

Negative impact on vietnamese culture

Source: Infocus Mekong Research

Do international brands and advertising have a negative impact on Vietnamese culture?

The single largest and potentially most damming change in attitudes towards brands and advertising in the past seven years is an alarming increase in the number of consumers agreeing that “International brands and advertising have a negative impact on Vietnamese culture”. In 2011, only 17 per cent of urban Vietnamese concurred with this, which increased to 22 per cent in 2013 and then to 77 per cent this year. This represents the single largest shift in any of the eleven-brand measures tracked. 

If you are an advertiser and / or a foreign brand in Vietnam, though, fret not. When asked why they view foreign brands and advertising as having a negative influence on Vietnam, the responses were revealing but not threatening. Eight out of every ten consumers noted that “we prefer foreign brands for their quality, assurance, trust and modernity, and as a means of self-expression, but the cause and effect is the washing away of some of Vietnam’s culture”, which obviously is a shame and sad indeed, but unfortunately a by-product of development. 
Ngoc Bich, a 31-year-old Hanoian, said: “Vietnamese people now prefer foreign products … partially due to brand trust … which gives consumers belief in quality and food safety. I find a high percentage of consumers concerned about the food of domestic enterprises, produced using prohibited substances and raw materials that have poor quality.”

It appears that Vietnamese culture is negatively impacted largely by international players out-performing Vietnamese brands in their own backyard. Additionally, many Vietnamese brands and companies are still slow to adapt to the latest and greatest technology, which Vietnamese consumers feel is pulling their own brands down and hence has a negative impact on Vietnamese culture. As Minh Trang, a 27-year-old consumer, explains: “Where technology is king, the world is open. Vietnamese citizens are now global citizens, accessing the world in just one click. We are eager to learn new values, cultures and knowledge. International brands and advertising have a great impact on Vietnamese culture, especially the younger generation.” 

What drives brand choice?

As consumers have become more brand savvy and experienced, it is critical for brands, both foreign and local, to embrace a few newish consumer truths: 
• Brand origin, especially recently, is becoming more critical in terms of consumer choice;
• Advertising without real content, messaging, and benefit negatively impacts brand choice;
• Technology, especially the internet and smartphones, are critical to success and brand choice;
• Modernity of concepts, products, services, and overall technology are very welcome.
However, one consumer truth still holds true: quality of product and services is still the driving force behind brand choice in Vietnam (50 per cent), and ultimately is a trade-off called “Value for Money”.

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