Lawrence Chong, partnered with Babylons Vietnam in assisting Vietnamese enterprises to build iconic brands in this interview, Chong shares key insights on how to protect Vietnamese export products.
Babylons: Vietnamese firms have recently spent huge amounts of money on registering trademarks internationally. In your opinion, is trademark registration sufficient to protect Vietnamese export products?
Lawrence Chong: Trademark registration is just one of the tools available in terms of protecting an export product. Because of Vietnam’s rich heritage, it’s probably easy to identify unique symbols to trademark but more has to be done. An export product, food especially, needs to have world-class packaging, a unique user experience and a strong educational campaign to help people appreciate and connect with the food product.
For example, Vietnam has amazing fish sauce, but there is no distinct brand name that stands out. It doesn’t help when majority of the bottles and labels look similar. With regard to education, I don’t think it’s that easy to find information on how to best appreciate fish sauce. If I didn’t have a Vietnamese colleague to help me understand when to use it, I might never have come to appreciate the distinctive flavour of this condiment. This poses a business opportunity for someone in Vietnam bold enough to completely transform the experience surrounding fish sauce without losing the Vietnamese heritage.
In the end, even if you did register a unique trademark but lack the unique product experience to quickly secure global customers, you would lose out in the long run. It’s very expensive to register and keep your trademarks. For Vietnamese companies, especially SMEs, it’s best to focus on the more practical aspect of designing a unique product experience to increase sales and improve your cash flow. That will naturally give you the means to protect your brand through trademark registration.
Babylons: Agriculture is a major contributor to the country’s economy. Do you think unprocessed farm products can become global brands?
Lawrence Chong: Certainly. In fact, because of recent food safety scares, it’s becoming increasingly important for farms to brand their produce and educate end-consumers on how they have been responsible managers in ensuring food safety. Traditionally farms focused on being a reliable supply and completely disregarded the need of branding, as they were used to dealing with brands who source for their produce. However, looking at the recent E. Coli crisis in Europe when Spanish farms were wrongly accused of being the source, I believe it was a branding problem. Because of the perception that Spanish farms were not well-managed, they lost millions of dollars in potential sales. By the time they traced the source to the farms in Germany, it was too late.
Many farmers tend to think that branding is about only marketing and sales, but in reality good branding acts as a form of insurance. If you educate and build a relationship with end-consumers via your website and secure global endorsements for being a good farmer, your brand can help preserve or even increase your customer base in a downturn or a food safety scare. But if nobody knows that your farm exists, much less that your food safety practices are sound, you’ll have no leg to stand on when a similar controversy hits Vietnam.
Another area where good branding can help is pricing. Precisely because of food safety concerns, if farms are branded as well-managed and responsible entities, they can certainly raise price points. Overall, the better you brand yourself, the more sustainable your earnings will be and the better you will be able to defend your business in a moment of crisis.
The question is, who in Vietnam is considered a gold standard in unprocessed food produce? What you have are Vietnamese companies that know how to put their logos on billboards, but how many people really know about their farming practices and management of staff? The latter is more important to be seen as a quality food source supplier. It’s time for a better Vietnamese company to emerge as a true gold standard for high-end farm produce supply.
Lawrence Chong is the Director for Strategy at Consulus, among the only Asian identity branding consultancies with both business management consultants and multi-disciplinary designers. Consulus has served leading and emerging Asian brands in 15 cities throughout the Asia-Pacific. For more information visit www.consulus.com