Can a baby grow properly without grown up guidance?

Recently i started listening to Vietnamese music, especially songs by “Trinh Cong Son” again. The more i listen to those songs, the more i fall in love with my home country, with all of its native beauties and challenges. This motivates me to write a review about what was mentioned on Vietnamese Marketing Magazine the other day.
This is a magazine which follows exactly the same format as the Singapore version so i am not sure if they are both under the same company.

Anyway, what happened was that Marketing magazine number 53 in Vietnam dedicated the whole content to just Online Marketing: what it is, where it is and how to take advantage of it in Vietnamese context?

The way it approached this subject is quite logical:

  • Definition of Online Marketing
  • Where Online Marketing is in the overall marketing picture in terms of budget split, the potential, estimated growth rate in the next 3 years
  • Recommended steps for an Online Marketing campaign
  • It all starts with a good website… what is a good website/micro site?
  • Ways to promote your site: Display Media, Search Engine Marketing, Email Marketing, Social Media etc…
  • How to measure the success using Web Analytics

(I worked with the reporter to contribute the article about Search Engine Marketing, which covers both Paid Search and Search Engine Optimization. Due to limited space, i could only cover some very basic concepts though. )

Back to what was mentioned in the magazine, depending on which sub topic, the materials range from basic concepts to quite complex techniques.
Comparing Vietnam and Singapore Online Industry, in terms of infrastructure, Vietnam is obviously way behind Singapore: e commerce law, credit card penetration rate, online consumer behaviors. However, in terms of using different online mediums to promote websites, the overall Vietnamese market is actually not that far behind.

We are massively behind in terms of using Search Engine Marketing effectively (if not at all) compared to Singapore. Yet banner advertising, sponsored blog, microsites, ad network, mobile advertising, social media etc…are all booming.

I am certainly not qualified to comment too much about the whole Online Industry in Vietnam. However, as for Paid Search or Pay per Click, i am sad by the fact that it’s yet to become as popular as it should be.

One of the major challenges, that was not mentioned in the magazine, is Industry Leadership. As per my understanding through talking to friends, business associates from agency side, client side in Vietnam, there has not been any clear leaders in sight yet. The whole industry is growing like a baby without grown up guidance.
Nevertheless, I have yet to come across an agency with big enough exposure to lead and set the benchmark for the whole industry to follow. Yet there are plenty of them for traditional Media.

Reasons for this situation are plenty:

  • Current budget allocation for Online marketing campaign (estimated less than 1%)
  • Limited level of understanding, willingness from clients to take a leap of faith
  • Human resource issue from both agency side and client side
  • Confusing messages from different agencies as to how effective SEM is
  • Macro economic situation and local norms (long term debt from big clients)
  • etc…

Search Engine Marketing was introduced in Vietnam long long time ago (at least 5 years ago). Yet until now, the adoption rate is so low that Google support for the market is virtually zero.

Most marketing managers when asked will say that they know about Search Engine Marketing, be it Paid Search or SEO. However, many of them never tried it before or have incomplete understanding/misunderstanding about SEM.

(Just side track a little bit: if you use Vietnamese credit/debit card to pay for your Adwords campaign, the reviewing time will take forever (more than 5 working days) simply because Google is concern about credit card fraud. Also by law, agency needs to pay additional 10% tax on top of their Google spend on behalf of Google since Google incurs profit in Vietnam market yet there is no way that Google pays that tax to Vietnamese government. This makes the overall charge increased substantially. )

Some Examples:

  • Government agency like Vietnam Tourism Board is not using Online Marketing aggressively to promote Vietnam tourism to other countries. My guess is that whatever offline initiatives are being done are much more expensive than equivalent online ones.
  • Most of the big hotels, travel agencies are not using PPC to reach out to foreign markets as well
  • Vietnamese economy is an export oriented economy yet so few firms/government corporations are using Paid Search to promote their products overseas

This has to change and it largely depends on local/international agencies or search engines like Google and Yahoo. While Google has about 80-90% of the search market share, it does not focus in this market since the overall revenue is still too small. Yahoo has little market share but it has other very popular products like Yahoo! 360, Yahoo messenger etc so it can afford to open a local office there. Nevertheless i don’t believe in the idea of using Yahoo Search Marketing for Vietnamese market simply because of its Vietnamese search capability from Yahoo and the support of its YSM platform.
Google has end users so sooner or later it will get more advertisers but the question is WHEN?

In short, it’s definitely a wonderful initiative that Marketing magazine dedicate the whole issue to Online marketing in Vietnam. It shows the level of perceived importance, appreciation and attention that Online Marketing is receiving. There are, however, a lot to be done in order for us to have a prosper, mutually beneficial industry (for both end users, advertisers and agencies).

Now your turn.

Please share your comments / feedback / critique / about this post. Are you from agency side or client side? How do you think we should improve things? What would you eliminate? What would you add? What did I miss? Please email me at

P.S: Feel free to email me if you want to have a copy of this month issue from Marketing Magazine as well.

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