Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Tale of Many Marketing Conferences in Vietnam: Getting Your Money's Worth In a Challenging Year

And where have I been for a week? I've been writing this blog, and attending marketing conferences, and writing this blog, and attending more conferences, and then writing this blog again. But wait, there was only one marketing conference last week and that was in Hanoi - and we're not sure that anybody really went to that one - and so one has to logically ask: How have I done this?

Well, thanks to VietnamMarcom and a wonderfully resourceful web review of their last conference, the whole community can share in the knowledge, save $180 bucks, and get pretty much what your going to get at any other conference that may come along. These days any person with a computer, Google Alerts and a few newspapers can pretty much keep up on whatever happens live or in print in the marketing world, saving your conference dollars for the ones that really matter. The following story will attempt to cover the conferences that have happened in the digital/marketing world over the last few months as well as those that are about to happen.

To do this, I've created a five-star rating system that covers:

1) Concept
2) Content
3) Venue
4) Cost/Value
5) Community.

Concept: means the "subject" of the conference. Is there a key business idea that's being discussed or is it just the annual plumber's convention?

covers the relative value of the speakers and their particular session. Are you getting real info like problem/solution workshops and case studies or just looking at vendor company's stock PowerPoint capabilities presentations?

looks at the relative value of the hosting place to the conference itself. Does it need to be a five-star hotel because that's prestigious or would an inspired choice like the HCMC Zoo work better as the Vietnam Advertising Festival did last year?

is not so simple as it might sound. Two of the following conferences cost the same, but one throws in a cocktail party for the same fee? Does that have value for you or your company? And finally,

One of the key benefits of any conference is the ability to meet people you would otherwise not be able to meet - to network, discuss and begin or advance relationships beyond the conference itself. These days, that includes a digital element as well - a way of keeping the conversation going and providing ongoing value.

Each area will have a possibility of 5-stars with one being an
"F" and five being an "A" to be aggregated into a composite 5-star average.

The good news in all of this, no matter how the conferences stack up, is that I have a lot to write about. For a market that's roughly a billion dollars in marketing spend each year
(with only ten million spent digitally) there's a lot going on - but since we all can't be in all places all the time, hopefully this will help us all make some choices about where to spend our respective company's time and money as the events proceed.

But before I launch into what may turn out to be my longest marketing post of the year we need to understand that conference organizers come in two distinct flavours.
Profit and non-profit. Since were all in this business to make money I have no problem with people who put on conferences for a living, so long as they are providing good value - conversely, I have no love for industry or educationally organized conference if it's done on the cheap and offers little value.

And I've been to, judged and spoken at plenty of these things: From the IAA in Seoul, to the CLIOS, New York Art Directors Show, The ONE Show in New York to private corporate affairs for Cheil Communications and Pacific Cosmetics in Korea I've gotten a pretty good flavour for sorting the good from the bad - and here in Vietnam we've either had, or are going to have both. You can download my public speaking Bio Here:


...and now, on with the shows!

1) The Vietnam Marketing Conference - for-profit

Review: Hosted on February 18th by VietnamMarcom this was a full day affair at the New World Hotel with a very good roster of speakers and presentations. VietnamMarcom operates as a school and involves itself for profit and promotion in events such as this. I was not able to attend but I'll assume it included welcome refreshments, a lunch and at least day long non-alcoholic drinks and snacks. For me the real breakthrough of this conference is that you can download all the presentations off their website so it's almost like being there - for free! Downsides include venue and price. Do we really need to be at a 5-star hotel for these things? The Ad Festival at the Zoo was positively inspiring. Even my company in Korea hosted an event (for 300) at our office that included four levels of the building spanning the rooftop, office, parking lot and stage with an art exhibition, video projections on surrounding buildings, live music and a New Orleans buffet with free beer, wine and whiskey from corporate sponsors. Also - with the economic environment as it is today, is it the best public relations to get film and photos of people in the marketing business living the high-life while the average person struggles to make ends meet? Something to think about, for sure. Last year's BIG SHOW was less successful than previous events held at the Galaxy Cinema because the newer venue was not large enough to handle the crowd, but I always appreciate the effort to get things out of hotels and into more thoughtful and creative environments.

I'm including links and samples to what I think may have been the best presentations of the day. I spent almost an entire day viewing these so at least I felt like I had been to a conference and was tired enough to prove it! The ratings work like this:

1) Concept @@@@@ - The concept of "Differention" kept this from being a plumber's convention

2) Content @@@@ - Speakers and presentations are mostly above average - More involvement from those outside Vietnam (other markets) would be an improvement

3) Venue @@@ - I've said enough about 5-star hotels - I think we can do better for less

4) Cost/Value @@ - At $180 a head this is a lot of money for even a large corporation and keeps the younger in the business out - look below for better value

5) Community. @@@@ - The website really makes this a community service - adding a blog and social networking options for discussion would be a great addition next time - simultaneous translation was also available

TOTAL = 3.6

Individual presentations are linked below. I've featured several of what I would consider the most notable efforts of the day. All are available for download.


Review: The most notable thing about this keynote opening by a representative of the Tan Hiep Phat beverage company is that although the company understands the concept of "Differentiaton" in terms what to put in a beverage and how it differs from other such drinks on the market, they seem almost totally oblivious to the same idea in terms of commercial message making. Long before my post on Detri-viral Marketing some enterprising creatives posted a YouTube comparison of THP's near total look-alike Dr. Thanh commercial to a Chinese beverage commercial. Interesting further is that this THP presentation was given on February 18th and the YouTube video went up on Feb 23rd. Dr. Thanh, are you listening? Since the YouTube posting, more than 5500 people have viewed the simple idea that your company did nothing more than copy another commercial to communicate the idea of differention - and that simply is not believable - certainly not to a crowd of people who create commercials for a living. Just because of all of this I actually tried the beverage and found it to be pretty good - a little expensive, but good. I doubt that any major media is going to make much of this but that's not particularly necessary. This cat has already left the bag and a large part of the industry thinks, well, certainly a little bit less about a product that THP is quite obviously proud of. Everyone thinks THP can do better. THP's lead agency is arguably one of the best in the world and has already done some of the best work in Vietnam for the Asia Injury Prevention Foundation. I suspect they can sell tea quite nicely. With the confidence to formulate and bring a very different product to market already in-hand, learning how to communicate that, in a voice distinctive of the brand is the next logical step in the creation of a truly valuable brand personality. But telling people a brand is different and then having them prove it otherwise is probably not the best message to be sending.


Review: This is one of the days where I wish I could speak or read more Vietnamese, because unfortunately, this presentation is not in English - but it has some simple and very communicative graphics and I want to know more about what it's talking about. There are a few presentations I have not included here because honestly, I just didn't feel they were very good but this one makes the cut because it goes beyond language and makes me want to know more - even as it stands, it makes me think - and that should be what a good conference is all about.

Bates 141 - Gorillas & Bees

Review: This one makes the cut because honestly, who doesn't like friendly gorillas?And what could be more different from a gorilla than bees? It nails the differentiation theme from the first slide. I have to assume that there were commercials shown on another screen to help us understand the analogy to the slides but what it does in spades, as is, is give a couple of case studies that illustrate that conventional wisdom is not always the way to get attention for a brand. Clean. Clear. Entertaining.

TBWA - Disruption

Review: At 71 slides plus video, this one takes the cake for the longest and probably most illustrative of all the day's showings but I, for the life of me, couldn't get the video to play in all the designated slots. Oh, I downloaded Quicktime, and the specified codec but after more than an hour's worth of jacking, couldn't see film. Suffice to say that this is basically TBWA's Disruption philosophy explained, some in work over 20 years old, and in that sense it works. Where it works less well is in making all of this relevant to brands in Vietnam today. Meetings like this are always full of client pitfalls in terms of confidentiality and the ability to show current case studies and I can sympathize with many of the speakers on that front, but at the educational stage that we're in, in this market, clients and brands need to see how something can work here to have the confidence to step out of the box and not do a Dr. Thanh.

TNS - MegaTrends

Review: From Taylor Nelson Sofres research, this is my favorite show of the whole day. Because it's relevant, it makes me think, and I know it will make my client think. This should be the meat behind whatever anybody wants to tell you is a brilliant idea. It's a wonderful introductory insight into the Vietnamese consumer's mind and if your brilliant idea doesn't have these values at heart, it probably missing the hearts and minds of the people who buy whatever it is you're selling.

Red - Brand Builders

Review: What Red brings to the table in Vietnam are that they are people who have committed to the country and bring a wealth of big agency multinational experience without the big agency price tag - but unfortunately you wouldn't know that from this show. What this is, is essentially a capabilities presentation with little or no insight into the concepts of differentiation and no examples of any of their work in a competitive or case study context. Interesting in an agency 101 sense but that's about as far as it goes.

TNS - Apache Motorcycles

Review: Somebody is going to wonder if I'm on the TNS payroll today but I assure you it's not the case. To borrow a line from the ad:tech conferences "all content is 100% editorial" and I just happen to believe that TNS put on two of the most informative and educational sessions of the day. This is a classic case study - written in a classic case study format with background, research, options and solutions, clearly laid out. Recently one of my past colleagues referred to me as a strategic eccentric, the idea being that I pretty much eat research for lunch and then set about trying to marshal insight and creativity to create communications of interest in the afternoon - and that, is essentially true - but without hard data, I would get nowhere. In Vietnam, marketing students, and professionals as well are at a distinct disadvantage for lack of credible and relevant case studies. This is one that, even from India, features a product and core values that all Vietnamese can relate to - maybe worth the price of the whole event.

2) Branding in Times of Economic Slowdown
- non profit

This was a conference hosted Monday April 20th in Hanoi and from all indications looked like it was helpful, cost-effective and ultimately comprehensive for a 1/2 day affair. Co-sponsored by Eurocham, the Vietnam EU Business Forum and the Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce and Industry speakers varied from Ralf Matthaes of Taylor Nelson Sofres to Le Dang Dzung, of Viettel - a more than reasonable mix of internationals and locals and a good introduction to branding as a concept in this still emerging market. But finding anything on the Internet about it was just not possible and all they were able to manage in terms of digital was an email contact. Here it is: . You can contact them for more information. Where this conference seemed to depart from others is that it was a business organization initiative operated in a non-profit mode. That doesn't mean they didn't make any money, it just means that they didn't get wealthy and although held at the Hilton Opera didn't throw the bar open at the end. Fair game.

1) Concept @@@@ - The concept of "Branding" is still new in Vietnam - good to explain it.

2) Content @@@ - Speakers are above average although missing any major agency.

3) Venue @@@ - Another 5-star hotel. Are hotels the only people making money here?

4) Cost/Value @@@@@ - At $45 a head this is half the price of two other full day conferences, had it gone all day - a good value.

5) Community. @ - No website, no way for participants to continue to connect online afterwards.

TOTAL = 3.2

3) SGN Digital:Marketing - for-profit

This is a tough one for me. I was asked to speak at this conference a few months ago, based on my 2009 Marketing Predictions post and I told them I wanted to wait and see after finding out that the company is in this business for profit and they were not paying speakers or offering any commission on sales for referring sponsors or participants. Hmm? After being asked to speak, I immediately posted on Facebook and LinkedIn that I was speaking and received a flurry of mails inquiring about the event. Wait a minụte - if I'm in the business of actively promoting an event and the event producers are in the business of making money off the event, shouldn't I be able to make money too? Especially in a digital age when you can actually count hits and tag sales to leads that come directly from me? Trick question? No. The answer is yes - but this event does not even have an online payment system. And that is indeed the business of digital marketing. So essentially there is nothing at this event that can guarantee me valuable business leads that turn into real money - and in a world where this blog gets me more leads than anything else I've got going on, do I need to be promoting others for free? It doesn't make sense. Since the start of WWED I've put in three stories a weVietnamMarcom, SDM, Pace, Saigon Digital Marketing, conference, Philip Kotler, TNS, Marketing,  Twitter, Advertising,   Red, ek on a regVietnamMarcom, SDM, Pace, Saigon Digital Marketing, conference, Philip Kotler, TNS, Marketing,  Twitter, Advertising,   Red, ular basis and now have a total of 170 stories - and a lot of readers in that mix and I use that to sell other services. With the amount of good information I put out there for free, I too need to make money off the other things I provide - and that includes public appearances for profit making entities including conferences, universities and corporations who are all, in the end, making money. And the non-profit events? Yes, I'll be more than happy to give my time and energy to things like BarCamp and the like because that's a way I can give back to the community. As far as the great majority of other speakers at events like this, they are being paid by their corporations to promote their respective services and it's simply part of their job - for me, it's an actual source of income.

But on to the SDM event, which is also co-sponsored by VietnamMarcom. All that said previously, am I predisposed to give them a negative review? No, not at all, since it hasn't happened yet, but as is the purpose of this story, I want to give you as accurate a representation as is possible and help you decide where and when your money may be best spent.

VietnamMarcom, SDM, Pace, Saigon Digital Marketing, conference, Philip Kotler, TNS, Marketing,  Twitter, Advertising,   Red, The first thing that struck me about the SDM event, happening on May 23rd, is how close to the Dr. Thanh people they were in terms of communications concept. During our early negotiations the representative kept telling me that I wasn't familiar with the ad:tech model they were using from the United States - so I decided to learn a bit more about the ad:tech series of conferences and see how they stacked up against SDM and can you believe it? SDM is an almost perfect copy of a concept that has been working in the US for twelve years. Amazing or just a bit unsettling? I'm always a bit unsettled when I see things that are as mirror close as this.

VietnamMarcom, SDM, Pace, Saigon Digital Marketing, conference, Philip Kotler, TNS, Marketing,  Twitter, Advertising,   Red, It starts immediately with the logo but jumps precipitously when you get to each conference's respective homepage. It's deja vu, all over again. I just find it all a bit spooky. When the people who copied something write their memoirs will they be honoured for having taken someone else's idea and replicated it? And since ad:tech is in Singapore, Shanghai and Beijing already, is SDM an exportable product these people will have once they've perfected it in Vietnam? It doesn't seem so. I wonder mostly why they didn't join with ad:tech and take advantage of the significant global impact that organisation has had already with the concept - from celebrity speakers to first class organisation - but I'm sure there are cost and profit considerations I'm not aware of.

But unfortunately, the nicking of an idea leads into straight out plagiarism. Here are a couple of snippets directly out of each organisation's site:


The ad:tech conference is 100% editorial content. Speakers are selected on their merit, insight, leadership and ability to share new research and metrics. ad:tech welcomes speakers from all brand categories, agencies, corporations and perspectives. An emphasis on case studies, whenever possible.

Keynotes: are limited to 3-5 marquee speakers per show and typically feature high-profile executives or thought leaders representing key areas of the new marketing landscape.

Panels: are rich opportunities for qualified speakers from every corner of the industry to share insights and experiences with a quality audience. These speaking opportunities also provide a valuable opportunity to gauge the competitive relevance and value of their companies in a highly targeted and interactive forum.

Panel Moderators: are always in demand at ad:tech and represent an equally valuable opportunity for industry leaders to participate in the panel format. Panel discussions involve active pre-production, solicitation of speakers, organization and skill. The panel sessions themselves are one hour in length, which includes audience QA opportunities.

Workshops: are highly focused, interactive learning environments where speakers move from behind the podium to directly engage with attendees.


SDM conference is 100% editorial content. Speakers are selected on their merit, insight, leadership and ability to share new research and metrics. We welcome speakers from all brand categories, agencies, corporations and perspectives. An emphasis on case studies is preferred.

Keynotes: keynotes: are limited to 2 marquee speakers this show and typically feature high-profile executives or thought leaders representing key areas of the new marketing landscape.

Panels: are rich opportunities for qualified speakers from every corner of the industry to share insights and experiences with a quality audience. These speaking opportunities also provide a valuable opportunity to gauge the competitive relevance and value of their companies in a highly targeted and interactive forum.

Panel Moderators: represent an equally valuable opportunity for industry leaders to participate in the panel format. Panel discussions involve active pre-production, solicitation of speakers, organization and skill. The panel sessions themselves are one hour in length, which includes audience QA opportunities.

Workshops: are highly focused, interactive learning environments where speakers move from behind the podium to directly engage with attendees.

Hosting on May 23rd at the New World Hotel this will be a full day affair with a good roster of speakers, presentations and moderators including Jeremy Fain of the Interactive Advertising Bureau in the US, Ralf Matthaes of Taylor Nelson Sofres in Vietnam and probably the most locally interesting choice, Bryan Pelz of VinaGame which operates one of Vietnam's leading Internet portals.

Probably the most interesting twist of the SDM conference is that although it comes with a registration prices that range from $180 to $280, the two keynote presentations are free and open to the public. Paid attendees are forcast to be around 200 with another 800 allowed to mill about for free during the daylong event. This opens at least a portion of the conference to younger employees and students but it will certainly be interesting to see how the hoi polloi mix with those who paid up to $280 to attend. Downsides include venue and price again for most of us. Since the online advertising market accounts for only roughly 1% of total adspend in Vietnam it would have been nice to have seen the organizers really work on the venue and come up with something that was both creative and cost effective - like and old factory or even the Reunification Palace or HCMC Opera. This is, after all, the
digital ad market and the people who are really pioneering the industry don't exactly work in shiny office towers.

1) Concept
@ - Nicking a business model from the US and just sticking it in Vietnam is not a concept

2) Content @@@ - Speakers and presentations are above average but lacking a real Internet celebrity - my friend Hugh Macleod would have been an excellent choice since he's built a career out of digital marketing and has a book called
"Ignore Everybody" coming out in June. For the prices, this event begs a bigger name than any featured.

3) Venue @@@ - New media requires new thinking - the New World Hotel just puts things back into an old world again

4) Cost/Value @@ - At $180 - $280 we're getting almost to the price of seeing a Nobel Laureate
(see below) - but corporations get the cheapest prices here? Shouldn't there be an entrepreneur's discount? At least there's a cocktail party at the end of the day. This comment from Kay Bayliss, Director of the Asia Digital Marketing Association (a co-sponsor) indicates that their Hong Kong conference costs roughly the same, yet our economies are radically different. Things should cost less in Vietnam.

5) Community. @@@@ - The current SDM website includes a blogging option but there's still not much in it - maybe after the event - also there's a Facebook group. Should SDM put the presentations up for download and begin a regular dialogue with the community via a blog and news, this would add a lot of lasting value to the industry - and there's always the cocktail party.

TOTAL = 2.6

4) Barcamp Saigon - non-profit

Review: My experience at Barcamp Saigon last November at RMIT was the perfect way to introduce myself to Saigon's digital community and continues to yield friends and business contacts to this day - mostly because it is billed as a "user generated tech event" - essentially a "non conference" in that the participants were part of the show and interaction. I have written about it in detail and that story can be found here. For sake of not making this particular post any longer than the bible, let's cut straight to the ratings:

1) Concept @@@@@ - The idea of a "user generated" conference just couldn't be more perfect - and it continued to spark ideas, still spirits and foster friendships throughout the day

2) Content @@@ - Starting with Bryan Pelz of VinaGame and leading all the way through "Sexy Cambodian Bloggers" the day was full of professionals and just plain fun made all by the people who drove the event. At the finale, everyone was given a chance to talk about their experience. Marketing people were scarce (I was the only one?) but I'm sure that will improve with time.

3) Venue @@@@@ - RMIT was professional, casual and had all the facilities including F&B and nice auditoriums and presentation rooms. We didn't seem to need waiters with trays of h'or deovres wading about. Dinner was served at a restaurant outside the venue.

4) Cost/Value @@@@@ - Sponsored by VinaGame, RMIT and IBM the event was completely free with lunch, dinner and drinks included. That really can't be beat.

5) Community. @@@@@ - The interactivity of the event, along with the continued growth of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs and whatever's next communications has made and continues to make this a growing and vibrant community.

TOTAL = 4.6

So there we have it. Almost the end. Now I realize that I may have missed a whole raft of Ph.D.s, CEOs or those who just might have a bunch of money burning holes in their pockets and so I want to call attention to the arrival of Paul Krugman, sole winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2008. You can see him for $370 including lunch, materials and a certificate (I can't imagine what the certificate states - "This certifies that (your name here) paid $370 to see me in Vietnam"?) courtesy of the Pace Institute of Directors. These are the people who brought us one day of Philip Kotler, the Father of Modern Marketing, last year for somewhere in the neighborhood of $700. There is no website for the current event. I suppose if you can afford this you have little use for Twitter. Conferences at this price make all the marketing events, except SDM, look like an absolute bargain.

For more on time bandit idea & business concept filching, para-normal plagiarism, and all out spooky behaviour, check below:

New York Magazine Steals AsiaLife cover from the future!
Dr. Thanh robbed by Chinese Time Bandits!
SDM:Saigon Digital Marketing victim of para-normal plagiarism!
Bono and international do-gooders caught (Red)handed in idea heist!
Saigon Brand Provocateur steals idea from himself!

For more on digital marketing and social networking see:

Xing vs. LinkedIn: Round II
Trial and Error: The New Normal
What's Wrong With My Social Networking? Xing vs. LinkedIn I
Low Tech Germany. Who Knew?
Advertising People and Blogs
How to Write the Best Blog in the World
What If Gutenberg Had a Blog?
If Blogs Are Free Does That Make Them Worthless?
Detri-Viral Marketing II: The Top 10 Social Media Blunders
Bright Lights, Big Internet and the WWED
Saigon Digital Marketing Conference Successfully Avoids Plumbers Convention
A Tale of Many Marketing Conferences
Detri-Viral Marketing I: How Web 2.0 Can Go Against A Brand
Marketing Predictions for 2009
Barcamp Saigon 2008
"Ignore Everybody" is Born: A Plug for Hugh MacLeod
Are the Bloggerati Missing the Market? Asia has Risen,
Into the Gapinvoid - Web 2.0 Social Networking Born 20 Years Ago


  1. David, this is a great post, full on commentary and helpful resources. Thanks for the links!

  2. Yo T*! Thanks. Who are you? Blogger will not reveal your identity!

  3. Hi,
    I'm a David too living in Vietnam. This was a great review of the conferences and presentations. Are you going to keep updating it? There seem to be marketing conferences all the time here.

  4. Hey David L.!

    I'll keep up with anything that happens, but I'm not aware of anything coming up in the next few months. Let me know if you're aware of something and join Vietnam Marketing pros on LinkedIn to keep up on things.


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