Vietnam: a post-hipster society, insights.

There’s no more challenging markets for strategists than booming markets like Vietnam. But this late one is a particular beast. Its unique history of protectionism due to post-war embargoes and isolationist policies until the early 1990s have made a uniquely composed audience.

Audiences never been, never seen. Vietnam has never had 1980s yuppies, because the country was definitely not an open financial place under full communist praxis until the Doi Moi policy kicked in. It never had 1990s normal dads or grunge skateboarding kids, because tertiary growth never started until the late 2000s. And more recently, it has not gentrified in the wake of hipster culture, because the creative class is still marginal and irony is not really a cultural trait.

So who are the main socio-types of the post-hipster society that is Vietnam and how are they evolving? The landscape is changing fast, with multiple layers of society making progress at the same time, but here are the main profiles we can observe.

A- The early winners.

Who: In the wake of the opening to global trade and the kick-start of economic growth, Vietnam has seen a happy few reap the rewards of capitalism. Industrials who set up early and their investors are an elite who have focused on building estate rather than spending unreasonably. However, it is not uncommon to see Bentleys and Rolls Royces roam the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. The luxury industry is still struggling to find a mutual understanding with this elite, as most of the early winners are very traditional and have not adhered to the international luxury lifestyle yet.

Perspective: Expect their children to study abroad and to have first seats in directors positions for the next decade.

B- The self-made families.

Who: When Vietnam started adopting new products, new services and new experiences one after the other in the 2010s, a middle-class with savings started investing in local businesses: web agencies, food & beverage, clothing lines, media/PR agencies, local start-ups, rentals… They are now moving their families into serviced condos and get their daily lifestyle and business inspirations from Singapore, Taipei or Hong-Kong.

Perspective: Interestingly, the corporate profiles also belong to this category. Successful careers in local and international companies are built on a hyperactive social networking scene, where everyone’s track record becomes a personal brand for the next big move. Loyalty to the employer is quite low. A huge HR task is at hand to identify the skilled and talented professionals.

C- The craving youth.

Who: Younger Vietnamese Millenials and their little siblings have grown up playing MMORPGs in cyber-cafes, and are now the bulk of the population, coming from all classes. Family structures being still strong, they have not gained autonomy as consumers yet. But they are avid consumers of enjoyable products and services. Cinema is booming as well as cafe culture, when all one wants is to hang out away from home with friends.

Perspective: Massive consumer trends develop in Vietnam as the youth is evolving in community rather than in individualism. In the two main metropolises Hanoi and Ho-Chi-Minh-City, large groups of friends are more popular than singular crews. International brands have major cards to play in consumer engagement with this demography. But they should be careful of developing tastes for design and contemporary aesthetics among this target. What are Nikes and Converses waiting for?

Conclusions

Brands should differentiate premium targets which are growing more and more selective and critical of marketing techniques and brand experience. With either conservative profiles among early winners and highly independent self-made families, interest for brands is difficult to garner, and loyalty is even more difficult to maintain. All the categories of consumers who can spend are thinking hard before engaging with a brand, much harder than in Western economies where brand consumption has become embedded in culture.

So what?

Luxury Brands? Network, belong to the social map. #club

Premium Brands? Empower, create corporate cultures. #social

Popular Brands? Inspire, amaze the youth where they are. #street