Keith Hancock explores the brave new world of digital marketing in Vietnam. Photo by Jonny Edbrooke.

Digital marketing is a relatively new concept in Vietnam, and many advertisers are confused when faced by a barrage of unfamiliar terms, such as native ads, social media, and sponsored content.

This new field also creates a dilemma for traditional advertising agencies, especially when it comes to billing for services. The analytics that accompany digital marketing means customers can see how effective their advertising spend is.

But, unless agencies provide full access to, or at least base their billing methods on these analytics, it is easy to suspect that the various discounts and bonuses enjoyed by advertising companies end up being pocketed instead of passed on to the client.

A new player believes that openness and transparency in billing, and an overall ethical approach to digital marking, is the way of the future.

Lion and Lion began operations in Malaysia and Indonesia five years ago. Over time they have expanded across Southeast Asia and now operate in Hong Kong, Singapore and this year Taiwan and Vietnam. Next year they will open offices in Bangkok and Manila.

The new breed of digital marketing companies are usually technology-based, rather than the creative-based model of traditional advertising companies. Lion and Lion describe themselves as digital born and the business is structured to work purely in a digital market.

Lion and Lion centralise the best talent in Malaysia, where they have 180 people. Of those, 140 work in specialised teams, focusing on different areas of the business. Each country in which they work then work employs locals on the ground to help with issues that are particular to that market. For example Facebook is, of course, enormous here in Vietnam but Twitter is not. However, In Indonesia there is a huge number of people on Twitter; more than 50% of the population. In Singapore there is no local execution at all, because Singapore is so similar to Malaysia. Due to the close proximity of the two countries it is easier just to do the work there.

The way they do business is to try and build a relationship with the client based on mutual trust. Ben Waters, the general manager of Lion and Lion’s Vietnam operations, previously worked in finance and stock trading. He then moved into programming and web development.

Waters said transparency was an important element in how his company operates in Vietnam. “We are currently working with a client to drive leads to their financial service business,” he said. “We started in a completely open manner. Instead of selling them a Cost Per Click model, we propose Cost Per Attribution. We track the journey to see if clicks are actually relating to customers. This means that the customer can clearly see if this is resulting in work. Only then will we work out the costs. This means that the customer makes more money, at a cost efficient manner. The profits are shared.”

The Data Doesn’t Lie

Digital marketing methods are changing as innovators come up with new ideas for getting brands’ messages across. Take Shutta, for example. This Ho Chi Minh City-based photo capture app allows brands to engage people by inviting them to become a direct part of building the brand’s campaign.

“Whereas traditional marketing has always been the domain of creative people, in modern day digital marketing the domain has shifted to data analysts instead,” said Shutta co-founder Barbara Ximene. “More than any other form of marketing, digital marketing, and social media marketing in particular, lends itself to a pure results-driven approach. The wealth of insights that each social media campaign provides makes it the ultimate channel for optimising marketing returns.”

Not everyone is keen to leap into the new world of digital marketing. Decision-makers at local and foreign firms are often quite happy to pay for an ad on the side of a bus, but are very wary of advertising on the internet.

But the reality is that even these more traditional marketing methods will very soon be subject to intense data scrutiny. As technology leaps forward and it becomes possible to track metrics for out-of-home advertising, traditional advertising agencies will be forced to embrace data analysis on all their activities. Brands will expect nothing less.

“Some of the chief marketing officers in major companies may have 20 years experience in marketing but possibly hardly any digital experience,” Waters said. “In coming years these people will start to retire, to be replaced in senior positions by guys who are fully digitally savvy.

At the moment only about 10% of Vietnamese companies marketing budget is spent on digital ads. For companies in the West, the figure is much higher”.

A New Age

Southeast Asia in general and Vietnam in particular have a digital market that is growing exponentially. Young people have grown up not knowing life without a computer. As handheld devices get more and more sophisticated, digital marketing will be one of the big growth areas.

This year, for the first time, digital and social marketing spend in Hong Kong and Taiwan have overtaken television commercials in terms of budget. It is imperative that decision makers in companies fully understand the power of this industry, and grasp it with both hands.

The future of digital marketing looks strong. This modern industry has matured well and as more people learn of the significant impact it can have, they will use it more and more.

As digital devices grow, so will this modern way of marketing businesses. It’s safe to say that in Southeast Asia it will develop significantly.