The key to branding is enriching lives through the brand experience. That’s the bottom line for Matt Millard, a former expat brat who found his true calling in Vietnam and is now managing director of Purple Asia. By Barbara Adam & Yendy Tsang.

This is Matt’s strategy, no matter whether he’s working with a five-star resort, a brand of tea or a charity.

Matt has been heading up his Ho Chi Minh City-based marketing and branding company for 16 years, mostly representing international clients, including Unilever, Diageo, Harley-Davidson, Exotissimo, Apple Tree Group, Johnnie Walker and a string of high-end hotel chains.

Big Beginnings

International logistics company DHL was one of Matt’s first big customers. He was brought on board in 2003 to roll out their new branding in Vietnam. Their new logo proved challenging from a Vietnamese perspective, Matt said, as it was very similar to the red and yellow former South Vietnam flag and needed to be approved before it could be displayed above their downtown depot, directly opposite the Ministry of Culture on Dong Khoi Street.

Another success story Matt tells is the rebranding Purple Asia did for the Pullman Saigon Centre’s flagship restaurant, Cobalt.

The restaurant is now the well-known Mad Cow Wine and Grill, represented by Maddie, a suitably eccentric and windswept highland cow, and the tagline “mad about wine, serious about food”. 

The campaign, and the success of the rebranded restaurant, “really changed the atmosphere and morale at the hotel”, Matt said. “We’re now looking at rolling that brand out in seven countries in Southeast Asia.”

Matt said when his team is called in to work up a branding strategy, they delve into every facet of the business, and the resulting campaign may well change the way the company operates.

VinaLiving was one of the first brands Purple Asia created, Matt said. The client was VinaCapital, one of Vietnam’s biggest investment management and real estate development firms.

Lifestyle Blueprint

To create the brand, Matt and his team looked deeply into “how Vietnamese people live their lives in a home”.

The Vietnamese lifestyle revolves around food and family, he said, and this needed to be reflected in the branding … and the product.

Purple Asia created a blueprint for the ideal Vietnamese lifestyle, which is still used across the VinaLiving residental portfolio, from their five-star developments to affordable townhouses in Nha Be District.

“That blueprint still applies to everything they do,” he said. “From the architects, interior design teams, sales and marketing and how they talk to their customers.”

Same Same

Matt said he didn’t believe there was a significant difference between the Vietnamese market and other markets when it came to branding.

“Obviously consumers are different everywhere,” he said. “But the relationship between product and customer and the discussion of marketing and branding are fundamentally the same.”

In all markets, consumers are bombarded by images every day, and everyone has the problem of more choice and less time than ever before, he said. At Purple Asia, the team focuses on creating “experiences” that resonate with the market.

Matt said he didn’t have many Vietnamese clients, possibly because the domestic market doesn’t yet full understand what branding is.

“They know they need a brand but they think it’s a logo and they think it’s cheap, and they don’t tend to be fully invested in the whole process,” he said.

Matt was born in the UK and was relocated to Singapore at just three months of age. He spent half of his childhood abroad and half back in Old Blighty. When he turned 18 his father sent him off to have his character built by working on a bridge project across the Kinabatangan River in Sabah in Malaysia.

Character suitably built, Matt spent time in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand and London before eventually settling in Thailand, where he set up a travel agency, aged 24.

New Opportunities

The travel agency was hit hard by the Asian financial crisis of 1997, and two years later Matt decided to join his brother, who was working in Vietnam, which was just opening up to inbound tourism.

Matt found a job with a travel agency marketing Vietnam as a destination. “I was running around the world telling everyone how wonderful Vietnam is,” he said. “Until I discovered I wasn’t very good at working for other people.”

Matt’s twin daughters were born in 2002, the same year he founded Purple Asia and became his own boss.

Purple Asia now has about 20 staff working in the fields of brand identity, brand experience design, public relations, marketing communications and packaging design.   

The beauty of his current job, Matt said, was that it suited his love of travel and his desire for new challenges.

“It’s very interesting,” he said “It’s like I’m like getting a new job every day.”

This “new job every day” gig also suits Matt’s other passion: motorbikes. He has “a small stable” of bikes, and doesn’t think anything of zooming up to the Cat Tien National Park for a morning’s adventure.

He’s even built his own custom cafe racer, built around a Hanoi police bike.

So if you can’t find Matt in the office, you’ll find him on a motorbike somewhere, either in Australia, Europe or possibly halfway up the highest pass in the Himalayas.