With just a touch of trepidation I awoke on Saturday May 23rd to brew my cafe' and get ready for the Saigon Digital Marketing conference (SDM) at the New World Hotel. Little could I have known that on that day as well, Hugh MacLeod would feature me once again in one of the most popular blogs in the world, the Gapingvoid, and that I would be enroute to my crowning at the event as "Saigon's oldest digital man". I say trepidation because just a month earlier I had written a post called "A Tale of Many Marketing Conferences" and had done an early assessment of what I thought SDM would amount to. On a five point scale I had given them a 2.6, so no one would have said I was exactly in love with the folks from the get-go (I give a revised score later in this post). My relationship with SDM began with a request for me to speak at the event, based on a marketing predictions post I had done at the start of 09, but we were never able to come to any workable compensation agreement and so I had elected to not speak and only attend the publicly announced free keynote speeches and let it go at that. I had, however, assembled a skeleton crew of other attendees who had agreed to provide me with their views on the event and felt that through my partial attendance and their more well rounded opinions we would come to a good overview of what many industry executives had felt was a non-event. I had even joked to a few friends evenings before that I might be thrown out of the gathering as a party crasher looking for a story where no story was to be had - an interloper at a $180 conference who was too damn cheap to pony up the money to hang with the rich and famous of the Saigon digital world (of which there are possibly 1 and a half). Thankfully I couldn't have been more wrong. Finishing a coffee and wandering into the main hall to see Jeremy Fain from the Interactive Advertising Bureau in the US, the opening keynote speaker, I found a number of people I knew and immediately began to get a sense of the day. Research folks, only two kiosks giving away brochures I didn't want, and meeting Bryan Pelz of Vinagame, who had given me a nice link on his blog, would be my openers, followed by seeing Simon Christy and Ettiene Ricco, both of whom I knew from online communities here in country - but a more than conspicuous lack of the big advertising agency folk who handle 80% of the money spent on promotion and branding here in Vietnam. Martin Sorrel loves digital, judging by his recent spate of purchases around the world, but there were none of his Vietnam boys to be seen at SDM - at least none that I knew. I'm going to give you a rundown of the presentations I attended a bit later but I thought it would be much better to begin things here with some comments from other attendees.
"I found the day worthwhile for catching up with some interesting people like you. And yes, as you mentioned in your blog, it was not worth spending that much to approach the information that we are able to download from the Internet. But what we can't download is people to meet in person. And that was worth paying for! :)"
"I would say hats off to the organizers – they pulled it off well despite earlier reservations. I found the day very useful for networking. As a 1st event it was surely a success. But I agree more case studies would be ideal for next year. So 101 this year - but surely next year will see a leap forward. The industry needs this to help develop."
"From those I spoke to after, including my own team, overall expectations were a little low before the event but they felt the event had actually passed off quite successfully with some interesting talks. The only negative feedback I heard was that there was some ‘overlapping’ of content/topics covered, in particular between the TNS presentation and Yahoo. That aside, it feels like a promising start to what could become an interesting annual event in our Vietnam marketing world. - P.S. Loved your biz card! :-)"
"I was very impressed with the conference for both its production quality and its content. I hope that SDM succeeds in holding these more than once a year going forward."
"You are special person at SDM by your fashion and sticky business card visit."
Okay, that last one was my own ego working overtime but I'm sure you can see from the above that the general view of the event was positive and worthwhile. The comments above are all from managing directors and company owners. After the keynote speech I ventured back out into the hallway for another coffee and a cigarette (Thank god you can still smoke in Asia without being accosted by the nanny police!) I met Ralf Matthaes from TNS with whom I share an old friend in Korea in David Richardson, and Chris Elkin of Red Brandbuilders - both pretty smart guys, and then finally, Kelvin To, the chief organizer of the event. Despite my earlier writings that the event might not live up to it's (could-have-been-a-whole-lot-more-effective) hype, Kelvin immediately dragged me up to the registration counter and handed me a press pass, stating, "We forgot to get you a blogger pass" and I was thrust back into the mix as the only blogger I know - there as a guest soley for being a blogger. I do understand that Marketing magazine was an endorser and may well do a story on the event but as far as English coverage, and there is none in mainstream media, I'm about as good as you're going to get around here covering marketing and indeed digital marketing.
As I don't have official numbers, I can say that the conference certainly met its goal of 200 all-day participants, but how many of those people paid is another question entirely. I'm going to venture 1/2 and think I won't be far off. There were plenty of employees from each of the sponsors, which I'm sure were not paying customers - but the one thing I was happy to see is that the extra 800 students or whomever they could have gotten to jam the free events didn't materialize. There was no real exhibition area as was planned in the initial proposal, leading me to think that they didn't sell any of the booth space, and of the laundry list of sponsors, endorsers and other assorted logos adorning all the handouts, I'd guess that only Toshiba and maybe a couple of others actually came across with any cash. The Vietnam Marketing Association, which, in happy comparison to The Vietnam Advertising Association, does have a very nice and informative website was unfortunately non-existent at the event itself and whomever comprises ADMA, the Asian Digital Marketing Association, didn't seem to have sent anybody - these misses were more misses for the organizations themselves than they were for SDM and the day.
As a one man band I was more than effective with my now signature Rubber Stamp Post-It Note business cards and had people asking me for extras for their friends. At one point I even produced the rubber stamp and a pad of ink and went to work on cocktail napkins. This proved to be not only humourous for most but provided a nice icebreaker for meeting many people throughout the day. For the next marketing conference I do, I am determined to give an entire presentation using only Post-It Notes and old-style goose-necked overhead projectors by just writing the show on Post-Its and peeling them off as I go along. I've got a few other Post-It tricks up my sleeve so don't be surprised if you see this guerilla marketing scam have a couple of lives. This lo-tech approach to a high-tech target is the kind of thinking clients need when approaching a medium so attention-span-challenged as the Internet.
Following are my notes on the presentations I was able to see. Keep in mind that it was an all-day conference with three or four presentations rooms going at one time so I was only able to spend a few minutes in some and none in others if the subjects or presentations were not of interest to me. All presentations are downloadable now on the SDM site.
Keynote Speech: Jeremy Fain, Interactive Advertising Bureau, USA
The nuts of Jeremy's pitch were simple. Have standards. Any standards. Standard ad sizes. Standard price rates. Standard methods of measurement. Seems simple enough, until you look at this market and realize that the only standard we really have is to make sure the typography is right-side-up. Bryan Pelz moderated and asked all the right, and funny questions to wrap this one up.
Digital Marketing 101: Simon Christy, Founder VEO Media
Simon's presentation for me, was quite possibly the best of the day. He had sex, violence and just the right amount of humour with a case study for the Sun newspapers in England and an entertaining well designed slide/video show. Unfortunately the show has not yet translated well to being downloaded so I am not including it here. I'm told the techie dudes at SDM are working on this...
Digital Brandbuilding: Chris Elkin, Managing Director, red-Brand Builders
Sorry Chris, but as this was a bit 101 for me I elected to move along to the Cimigo show as one can only get in so much in so much time, but thanks to the miracle of downloads, everyone can get a copy here.
The Vietnam Online Explosion: Richard Burrage, Managing Director, Cimigo
This was an all out love story with the Internet as heroine. If you're in love with the numbers first before you commit big cash, this is the presentation for you. I've included it here:
The big numbers here are all about the age group (young) and the sheer amount of time they spend on the Internet. If you've got something that young people want to buy, like music, a motorbike, a wedding ring, a house or a college education - you do the math. Easy.
Lunch: The metrics of packing in as much food as possible so you can make it through an entire afternoon of more of this stuff
There is no down-loadable lunch as it goes in digital land so short of bringing your own doggy bag you just troll the buffet tables until they run out of your favourite stuff. Talking to a few blokes after the event, they had taken the wise step of visiting the bar downstairs for a few beers to get through the rest of the day - certainly recommended for next time.
ROI Justification in Digital Media was not a particularly scintillating topic for me as I don't believe in trying to evaluate brand efforts in that manner at this stage of the game, in this country, at this time (too young a market), so I skipped that presentation - what I felt was lacking in the conference by this point was an element of selling the sizzle instead of the steak. The absolutely breathtaking taking changes we're witnessing in new media can be best viewed through the likes of YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and who knows what's coming next. Brands should be dipping their toes into all sorts of less-than-logical-in-the-past efforts to see what works for them. The idea is more that you're embracing the new communications channels than looking for big ROI (Return On Investment) off the bat.
Conversely, I was very interested in what Aryeh Sternberg had to say about Digital 360 Branding but he had technical difficulties, as had unfortunately plagued most of the day, and couldn't get his screen working. His presentation is here but I have to say, I must have missed something by not seeing it in person because what's on the screen just seems to me to be overly complicated, not so well designed and less than sexy in an arena where the idea of something is a whole lot more interesting - to even advertisers who may not understand it completely - than a detailed look under the hood. Sometimes less is more and I was in search of that at this point.
Internet and Media Shifts in Vietnam: Ralf Matthaes, Managing Director, TNS
There's one thing you can always count on in a TNS presentation: You're not going to get a lot of bullshit. That's why they make the big bucks - but the presentation here is an awfully good look at the heart of the market and what they are doing with their media. The big message? TV is still king but the Internet is the fastest growing. Not news, but it's good to see it in pictures. Ralf's show was so good that Yahoo used the exact same one later, which somebody should have caught, but TNS gets a few points from me for actually conducting a poll about their presentation, in their presentation, and that's just plain smart research.
Next, I was off to Julia Miremont Morton's look into Online women's communities in Vietnam. I have to say that I had been looking forward to this all day and really didn't care much about email marketing or the role of ad networks in the mix. Yes, those presentations were valuable to some, but just not to me.
Her Vietnam, a case study: Juliette Miremont Morton, CEO, Vina Woman Ltd.
The reason Julliette's presentation was so attractive, or at least the idea of it, is that it was the only show of the day to deal head on with the concept of social networking- the idea that actual societies are being created digitally and evolving people's communication methods in ways that have never before been possible. Since I have spent an entire life, basically proving that I don't know anything about women, let's save my comments on the content and you take a look at it yourself:
As we should all understand, seeing a presentation here is not the same as being there and in Juliette's case, that's an absolute shame because she is a wonderful and engaging presenter and her PowerPoint show should be a model for all people doing PowerPoint shows - in any business. 21 slides. That's it. And each slide, simple and illustrative enough to keep your attention without taking attention away from the speaker. For all those who presented 87 slides that looked like a page out of Encyclopaedia Brittanica - take a look at this one. Simple. Graphically elegant and indelibly communicative - together with an engaging speaker and audience interaction it just can't be beat. Add to that, that Juliette's credentials and business model are ones that I believe will be successful in Vietnam in the immediate future, making more of a case for interaction and involvement than flat out marketing per se, in the burgeoning area of user-generated content and communal motivation. Ideas and results like this will build the Siliconmunist Valley I have so often referred to as Vietnam's digital future.
Moving along we're almost at the end of the show. Without taking anything away from Joe Nguyen of ComScore's presentation, all I can say is that after a day of the same data it was a bit of a haul getting through his show, and the research guy with whom I was sitting wanted to beg to differ with all sorts of numbers. I needed some rock and roll - or something. Let's all give this guy a break though because he was all of five days on the job and had a tough slot to fill. End of the day is tough on everyone at these things. I watched Bill Lynch, the CEO from Burnett, try to do a closer at the IAA in Seoul after Martin Sorrell did the opening and well - it was not pretty.
Closing Keynote: Bennett Porter, Head of Marketing, Southeast Asia
On to Bennett Porter, Head of Marketing for Yahoo! in Southeast Asia. Despite seeming fresh off the plane, and unfortunately armed with the exact same slide show that TNS head, Ralf Matthaes, had shown just hours earlier, she carried off her part of the festivities with pannache and style. An energetic presenter, nobody could doubt her commitment, but there were some serious questions to be asked by Bryan Pelz and conference attendees regarding Yahhoo!'s future in VN and the fate of their 360 social networking service. And it was there that Ms. Porter was a bit short on answers - not because she didn't know them but because recent management changes and shuffling things about at Yahoo! corporate have probably made it impossible to know exactly. Case in point: It is the common perception in Vietnam that 360 will close and bloggers are busy moving their accounts to Blogger, WordPress and MoveableType - but the Yahoo! party line is that they're just "upgrading" the service to become Yahoo! 360+. Duh. With blogging occupying such a large part of the Vietnamese market either Yahoo has done a miserable job communicating what will happen to the service or they've done a miserable job communicating what will happen to the service. Note to Yahoo!: Have a meeting on this. Ms. Porter finished the day with some broad strokes about Yahoo! being able to aggregate all sorts of social networking functions (Facebook, Twitter, Mixx, Digg, etc.) but generally leaving the future fairly fuzzy for the service that is still #1 in terms of email and SMS in Vietnam. Note to competitors: Have a meeting on this.
Closing: Networking party
Note to party planners: The digital future is full of young (aside from me!) energetic people who have a love of music, culture, social networking and almost anything new that happens to pop up on the Internet. Do not, and I repeat, do not, hire a Bar Mitzvah band to play the reception!
Dreadful. Can we spell d.r.e.a.d.f.u.l.? This band of a fiddle, accordian, guitar, keyboard and drums opened with a stirring rendition of "Roll ot the Barrel" followed by the Beatle's "Yesterday". Jeeziz. Did somebody die? It was positively the worst music I have ever heard at any event. But maybe nobody cared - the drinks were free, or part of your fee. With a town full of great DJs from the boyz at Dose to Mark Allan, somebody should have been all over this. Dragging these hotel relics out of mothballs for this event was just not the thing to do. SDM: Have a meeting on this. Other than that it was fun, and a few drinks loosened up the now digital data inflicted crowd and made for some nice photos. Some students were allowed in and there seemed to be a fresh injection of folks whom we had not seen all day. To SDM's credit, no speeches were made and the hors d'ourves were tasty.
"The oldest digital man in Saigon"
The conference actually ended for me a few days later when Danny from SDM called me up for a lunch. At a nice restaurant called the Hide-A-Way Cafe he told me a story about seeing me at BarCamp a few months ago and wondering "Who was the old guy?". I was certainly the oldest at BarCamp. But I protested a bit (my ego getting in the way of being old) and said that I had checked with one of the research guys and he had turned out to be 2 years older than I. Danny fired back, "That doesn't matter. He's a research guy and you're a digital guy, so you're the oldest digital man in Saigon!" Better to have a crown than to have none at all.
From my post "A Tale of Many Marketing Conferences" I have taken the pre-rating (2.6) for SDM and updated it from my original comments in red type from the real event below:
1) Concept @@ - Nicking a business model from the US and just sticking it in Vietnam is not a concept - I think they understand this now but maybe had to do this once, just to see how the needs and resources here are different. I'm sure next time will be more original.
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. I still find this to be true. Although Jeremy Fain was an expense to be brought in from the US we still lacked the big futurist kind of speaker who can sell the "sizzle instead of the steak" and get people thinking outside of the box.
3) Venue @@@ - New media requires new thinking - the New World Hotel just puts things back into an old world again. I'm still the same on this. Let's get this thing out of a big hotel and into a space that inspires new thinking. And besides, the equipment and support all day was a problem and a 5 star hotel didn't even have free WIFI for attendees - a real mistake at a digital event!
4) Cost/Value @@ - At $180 - $280 we're getting almost to the price of seeing a Nobel Laureate - 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 who didn't show up) indicates that their Hong Kong conference cost roughly the same, yet our economies are radically different. Things should cost less in Vietnam. - And for me and many others, cost is still an issue. The event had no way to allow some of the small start-up Internet companies participate on a scale that was economically feasible for them - getting this out of a 5 star hotel is one place to start
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. - This is where the entire event shined the brightest. The lack of big agency involvement was an obvious gap in the "community" aspect of things, but I'm betting that that's the agency's "don't give a damn about digital" attitude and that may well kill them off if they don't get on board. Otherwise the networking party - minus the band - and the ability to download all the presentations make this a 5 star category.
Final Score = 3 stars
I end this post with a thanks to SDM. Thanks for letting me attend. Thanks for avoiding the plumbers convention that some had predicted. Thanks for getting the ball rolling. And thanks for putting an idea above profit in the end. That's the kind of thinking that will build a future for everyone in the business - except for maybe the dinosaurs. Are you listening, Sir Martin?
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