Made-in-Vietnam should be a premier brand

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Do a Japan and steal a march over global brands, advises British expert

Charles Denton is highly impressed with Vietnamese craftsmanship.

However, the chairman of the award-winning London-based creative agency, Fold7, feels for the moment that "too much focus is on low-quality imitations."

Denton, a global brand marketer, is on a business trip to Vietnam, working with businesses to establish international luxury brands in the nation and help potential local brands improve their image before going global.

He told Thanh Nien Weekly that Vietnam has great potential to present prestigious brands to the international market. However, local manufacturers need to focus more on harnessing craftsmanship rather than focusing on low quality high volume as "short-term trading [could lead to] long-term regret."

After meetings with several Vietnamese manufacturers, he said, "craftsmanship among Vietnamese people is amazing," but that it was barking up the wrong tree by focusing it on low quality imitations.

"I believe if you invest more in craftsmanship and skills, they [craftsmen] could improve much more and compete in the more premium market."

He said he had found some Vietnamese brands that could be popular in the world but refused to disclose specific names. However, he cited the example of a "very successful coffee, completely unknown in the world, yet the tourists are buying it." And this was a potential opportunity, he said.

For Denton, a product is not merely a product but a nation's representative


Forty-five-year-old Charles Denton has been in the brand marketing business for some 20 years now, donning many hats including marketing director and CEO. In 2009, he became chairman of Fold7 (, a London-based creative communications agency which has promoted global brands including Carlsberg, Nike, Nokia and Universal Music.

Prior to Fold7, Charles worked for Molton Brown which was sold to Japan's Kao Corporation at US$275 million in 2005. During his tenure there, he built the Kao brand from a little known hairdresser into a globally known luxury brand.

During his trip to Vietnam, he hopes to bring his knowledge and expertise in retailing, e-commerce and marketing to help potential local manufacturers promote and improve their products to a higher value chain so that they can become luxury brands and go global.

"When someone stamps "Vietnam" or "made-in-Vietnam" on a shoe, dress or any product sent off around the world, they are creating high value or devaluing that country's brand."

Charles said local manufacturers now should think about the brand Vietnam and what they want "Vietnam" to stand for. "If Vietnam represents cheap and poor imitations, that's no good in the long term."

He said the Japanese had a lot of success by learning from and improving on western products which later had even higher quality and more affordable prices.

"I see there is no reason why Vietnam cannot do that, it's just about having a longer term view, taking time to invest in skills and craftsmanship, and understanding the value inherent in brand Vietnam."

Thriving nation

Besides working to support local producers to improve their products on the value chain, one of Denton's main interests in Vietnam is establishing luxury brands in the nation.

Over the last 10 years, he has been trading successfully in markets including Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore, and now "this is a good time to be here."

"Each of these markets emerged at a certain point of time which is the right time for luxury brands to establish themselves. I see very similar trends in Vietnam and I think this is a good time to be looking at luxury brands and helping them come into the marketplace."

Vietnam officially became a middle-income nation last year with an annual income per capita of around US$1,000.

As people become more financially successful, they seek to define their success by making statements about themselves, and typically, this would mean they would look toward owning luxury brands, he said.

Charles said there is a clear evidence that more and more Vietnamese people are pursuing these products and at the moment, many Vietnamese who buy luxury brands are buying them in Singapore, Hong Kong or traveling around the world and bringing them back.

He added the country is changing so fast that with more and more wealthy or super-wealthy people, Vietnam is going to be "unrecognizable in ten years time."

Denton sees every Vietnamese as a "natural mathematician" with an entrepreneurial spirit and some sort of ability to climb out of their background or poverty and succeed.

"I have no doubt they are waiting to blossom."

Losing national heritage

The British brand marketer also warned that Vietnam should work to preserve its heritage, as the rapid economic growth could make the nation lose the characteristics that make Vietnam special.

"I think Vietnam is a beautiful country with beautiful countryside, lovely people, and some beautiful history. And I think all of that has value. People coming to Vietnam are hoping to discover these attributes. Therefore you have to control tourism, don't let it run wild or over- develop it."

He said Spain is regretting the loss of unique features to overdeveloped tourism. For many years, thousands of English tourists have visited Spain, leading to major changes in some parts of its coastline. Now Spain is known as a low cost British tourist destination with a British coastline, which somehow devalues everything Spain has to offer. This hides the true Spain.

The Vietnamese government needs to be careful about what it wants Vietnam to look like, and how it controls the bad influence misinterpreting tourist needs may have on the country, he added.

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