With influencer marketing on the rise, agencies are now equipping themselves with more services and research to be on the front lines of this new niche. With the trend expanding, such offerings now require more localization and specialization too. One agency in Vietnam that caught our eye recently with the release of its 2020 white paper on influencer marketing entitled ‘Vietnam’s New Influencers: Gen Z, Gen Y, and the Shift of Trust’ is Vero, an ASEAN-based integrated marketing and communications agency led by Vietnam director Raphael Lachkar. Vero’s Vietnam team has conducted independent research to understand the evolving market and its major generational differences. To better understand these insights, Vietcetera meets with Raphael for a closer look at these emerging trends.
Among international marketers, Southeast Asia is often lumped together in a ‘regional’ approach. Vero operates in several ASEAN markets, so what are some similarities and differences among them?
In addition to Vietnam, Vero has offices in Thailand, Myanmar, and Indonesia, and we operate elsewhere in Southeast Asia through local partners.
The common thread in all of the markets we are in is that they all are going through the same media shift, in which online-made influencers have started competing with publishers and celebrities for attention and trust. This brings influencer engagement back to the PR practice; it’s all about shaping powerful messages and finding the right people to champion them. This gives brands the opportunity to create regional platforms that are relevant across borders and that their targets in different markets are ready to engage with.
Some brands are already doing it, including ones we’ve worked with such as Nok Air, Investing in Women, BSA, One Championship, and Team Flash. Moreover, the rise of e-commerce and performance media have led some companies to be impatient and have short-term mindsets. We aim to use the advantages of digital and social media for its short-term effectiveness while maintaining the core of PR for long-term brand-building.
As for notable differences across markets, we see that ASEAN countries have experienced their shift to digital media very differently. The countries that underwent digital media transformation earliest seem to have maintained a more traditional relationship to media. This could have something to do with the length of time it took to go through that shift, as the Thai and Vietnamese digital transitions happened over spans of years, while in Myanmar it happened almost overnight.
As a result, Thai millennials have had time to adapt and find perspective regarding their relationships to digital advertising and influencer communication, while Myanmar adopted them all in one go. Our research in Myanmar shows that Generation Z there puts more trust in the recommendations of influencers than anyone else in their networks – whether those are family, friends, colleagues, or TV ads. Our research in Thailand, meanwhile, shows that Generation Z there is more critical of influencer content and less likely than millennials to say that influencer endorsements convince them to trust a brand.
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What can we expect from Vero in 2020?
You can expect quite a bit. But first of all, 2019 has been one of Vero’s most successful years thus far. We won regional awards, grew the team by 30%, built relationships with amazing new brands, and opened two new offices in Vietnam and Indonesia. We’re still convinced that Southeast Asia is the most exciting region to do business in today, and whatever comes in 2020 from us will be targeted at growth in the region.
We are now looking to broaden our service offer so it can continue to answer the market’s changing requirements, and we’re actively testing two new projects. I can’t say much at this stage other than that they are media and technology investments, and that they will support our clients and teams to keep in touch with the increasingly fluid communication landscape.
What is the typical profile of an influencer in Vietnam?
While there’s no algorithm for a typical influencer profile, there are some common traits such as having a likable personality or a special skill to share. However, what matters most is that these influencers are good at drawing their audience in with storytelling. Influencers become popular for various reasons, though many of today’s rising stars are online-born. Those who are product-focused often work in a given industry, then start a blog/vlog or website geared towards fellow enthusiasts, either as a hobby or a potential side hustle.
Evidently, it’s already a big time investment to eventually start making money as a blogger, yet it’s still difficult to maintain. Influencers may share knowledge just because they like to, or because they want to use it to raise their profile and support their careers, even if it’s not directly profitable.
For some, the next stage is to follow the likes of Western influencers by shifting their focus to owned brands. Namely, Changmakeup is the first beauty blogger in Vietnam to launch her own lipstick brand Ofélia in 2017, which sold out in the first day. Tran Manh Hiep, co-founder and admin of Tinh Te, the biggest tech forum in Vietnam, is another, and fashion and beauty influencer Thao Nhi Le also has her own lingerie and fashion brand, Daphale Studios.
How does a brand choose influencers to work with?
Brands have their own reasons, often due to comfort or familiarity. But when Vero is involved, we try to narrow down the choices based on a few main factors.
These days, brands that understand communication know that engagement rates are the ultimate metric. They’re more important than reach – whether an influencer operates on a macro or micro scale, targets a broad or niche audience. We can track engagement rates using social sentiment analysis tools and use them to find the opinion leaders who are really making a difference.
The other factor is the relevance of the influencer to the product or brand, which can make all the difference. The reason smaller influencers have higher engagement rates is because they’re more selective with their endorsements and make sure those are natural fits, which in turn inspires greater trust and devotion among their followers. For that reason, 10 well-chosen micro-influencers will almost always offer a better ROI than one macro-influencer at the same price, even if they have fewer total followers. However, larger influencers have recently started adopting similar methods, which is important to help them maintain their value.
How does an influencer price their service in the Vietnamese marketing industry?
In our research and experience, Vero has identified a few variables in influencer pricing: scope of work, engagement rates, and targeted community relevance. The more targeted you are, the higher your value is relative to audience size.
The price also depends on the industry, related to benchmark KPIs (engagement and reach) among both fellow influencers and paid media. Successful influencers know that the easier they are to benchmark by comparison, the easier it is to challenge their price, so they have to make themselves incomparable.
Are brands more willing to set aside more budget to target ads for influencers? Why or why not?
Brands are starting to target influencers, and they could stand to do it more. It’s a reasonable marketing strategy to target micro-influencers by becoming so relevant to their audience that you demand to be discussed. Influencers are publishers and must garner trust, so if you create something that is so important or cool that they can’t avoid it, then you can spread your message through them for free. It’s not designing ads, but designing desired conversations. Create an identity that people want to engage with, and influencers will flock to be part of it.
In what cases is influencer marketing not right for a brand?
In the current market ecosystem, virtually any business in any industry could benefit from a relevant influencer campaign. Even in B2B and niche markets, there is probably a person in a key role who can help us access that market, and we’ll use whichever media outlets they use to do so.
However, crisis management is one area where influencers become less useful, and direct communication through brand spokespersons is necessary to ensure complete control of highly critical messages. Influencers’ reputations are paramount, so they are not likely to want to put those on the line to defend a brand during a crisis, nor would brands likely trust them to do so.
Vero’s whitepaper mentions that Hanoi is more open to influencers, while Saigon is more keen on ads. Why is that?
Similar to the difference between Myanmar and other Southeast Asian countries, the rate of adoption of outlets seems to affect levels of trust. Saigon is the country’s international business hub, which means people here are exposed to international marketing tactics, including influencers. Meanwhile, Hanoians have higher levels of trust in media in general, thus to some degree this should carry over to influencers. Thus overall, influencers may be seen as closer to a form of advertising in Saigon, while in Hanoi they’re treated as something new.
What marketing channels are most in need for innovation in Vietnam?
Vero’s research shows that product and brand endorsement itself is not a problem or much of an obstacle in Vietnam. In fact, 70% of audiences like it, particularly because it’s an example of a strong signal cutting through the noise. People are surrounded by so much information that they don’t want to have to hunt for what’s relevant to them. They’d rather have it delivered to them by a voice they trust.
Meanwhile, we see traditional news media losing ground as outlets, so they need to rethink how they engage with their audiences. They may benefit from following the influencer model to become more targeted, with distinct subsidiary outlets that curate specific types of content and appeal to different communities yet still share a certain ‘mother tone’ that reflects the larger brand.
The interests of enthusiastic communities now hold a lot of power, and the media needs to engage and build these communities by creating opportunities, spaces, and events for them to come together. This is an area where media is still necessary and have an advantage over brands.
Why should a brand work with an IMC like Vero rather than a dedicated PR or social media agency?
Based on our experience and analysis, we have gained insights on two things: one is that today’s media ecosystem is increasingly becoming fragmented across many communication platforms and communities; the other is that a brand’s main challenge has become more about how to unify messaging in order to remain consistent and relevant at all times. For these reasons, we believe offering an integrated service is the best model today.
Integrated Marketing Communications consultants are those who aid internal communication teams by keeping a consistent tone while offering a peek at the bigger picture. Specialized agencies, on the other hand, require more coordination work and carry bigger risks of going off-brand, thus failing to leverage the opportunities created by each outreach attempt.
But overall, different companies have different demands, thus we offer both IMC consultancy and specialization for clients who require such. Some of the agency’s accounts are strictly PR, while others are strictly digital. Some target a single country or market, while others are multi-market.
The choice of a platform suggests the development of certain types of content, which we can either develop in-house or create with the help of specialized production houses. It all depends on what the brand is trying to accomplish.
Say I’m a brand here in Vietnam and I come to Vero for support. What scope of work would you offer?
If a brand is still fresh to the Vietnamese market, our role at Vero can begin as soon as the brand or product has been designed and defined – when it’s ready to take its first steps. The goal is to understand the particular challenges this brand or product faces, then work to surmount those while positioning it in the market ecosystem.
To do so, we need to create a voice that will reach its target audience in a way that is loud, clear, and compelling. A brand must be heard to continue to exist, and in a fragmented ecosystem, it will find the messages and platforms that resonate with its target audiences and the opinion leaders who matter to said audiences.
Once the messaging is defined, we suggest a communication outreach strategy through which we can use media relations, influencer relations, and community building in conjunction with digital or traditional advertising tactics. These platforms usually suggest the development of content, which we can either develop in-house or create with the help of specialized production houses, depending on what the brand is trying to accomplish.