I was honored to serve on a panel during the Vietnam CEO Summit 2015 in Ho Chi Minh City, where over 100 of Vietnam’s top executives and business owners came to learn about American marketing principles and how to penetrate markets in the US.
Since I had worked very hard on reconciliation and trade between the US and Vietnam during the mid-1990s and had been absent for a long time, it was gratifying to see how much tighter the bond between Americans and Vietnamese had become over the years and how welcoming the delegates were to ideas from the USA.
The July CEO Summit featured Harvard professors, journalists and marketing experts. Prof. John Quelch of Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration led the all-day discussion, reviewing Harvard Graduate School of Business case studies covering The New York Times transition to the digital age and its formula for determining how many free views visitors get before a paywall pops up. Quelch also reviewed Amazon’s phenomenal success as an online marketer, comparing retailing in Vietnam, which is extremely fragmented, to the US. The event was organized by Boston Global Forum, a Boston think tank, founded by former Governor Michael Dukakis and Tuan Anh Nguyen, who is responsible for opening Vietnam to the Internet, and Richard Moore Associates, a Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City marketing firm. In addition to organizing this event, Boston Global Forum takes on a key issue each year aimed at the promotion of peace and security in the world. This year The Forum is focusing on establishing an ethical code of conduct for the Internet in light of the rising tide of state-sponsored and other cyber threats around the world.
When conference delegates asked how to promote Vietnam in the US, I urged them to rely on cultural events—including Vietnamese and Western classical musical performances—and celebrity to promote their nation. One recent example of the power of celebrity: President Clinton’s recent visit to Hanoi was big news in the US and had enormous impact by placing Vietnam in the front of Americans’ minds.
The close relationship between Vietnam and the US is seen in ways big and small. For instance, you know Vietnam is integrated into our popular culture when Modern Family character Cam Tucker can pull off a comical bit on how American’s can’t pronounce Pho, the traditional Vietnamese breakfast soup. Cam tries a couple of pronunciations on his adopted Vietnamese daughter's pediatrician who finally quips, "I wouldn’t know, I’m Japanese."
Modern Family is the most popular show on American television, drawing an audience of 10 million—that means the writers are counting on a huge cross section of Americans to have enough awareness of Vietnam to get the joke. And, when you can comfortably bring in humor, that’s a big deal in terms of a positive relationship.
Since the US formally recognized Vietnam in July of 1995 and granted most favored nation status, this nation of 90 million has become an important business and trading partner, travel destination and major ally in maintaining peace in Southeast Asia. Imports from Vietnam are increasing steadily with last year's imports totaling $30.6 billion. US exports to Vietnam are $5.7 billion. In the first four months of 2015, Americans imported products worth $15 billion from Vietnam and sold $2.6 billion worth of goods. Worldwide, Vietnam is increasing its exports of manufactured goods—electronic components and clothing, specifically. According to Vietnam News Service, the export of staples such as rice, coffee and seafood have all fallen off slightly while the value of crude oil exports fell by 45%. In Ho Chi Minh City signs of greater wealth, style and nightlife, especially among millennials, are everywhere.
About 400,000 Americans and 100,000 Canadians are expected to visit Vietnam in 2015 according to Vietnamese government statistics. Vietnam is very welcoming, I never felt any residual animosity during my involvement with Vietnam over the years. Notably over 60 percent of the populations was born after the American War ended in April of 1975—40 years ago. A prominent Vietnamese leader who was a child at the time said of those years, we just wanted the war to end.
“To put that 40-year time span in perspective, 1985 marked the 40th anniversary of the end of World War II and Americans were driving BMWs and Toyotas with nary a thought and the Japanese and Germans were listening to Phil Collins and Journey.
Panelists are from left Moderator Nguyen Duc Son, brand manager, Richard Moore Associates, Michael Morris, journalists and author, Prof. Thomas Patterson, Harvard University, Tuan Anh Nguyen, chairman and co-founder of Boston Global Forum, Nguyen Van Tuong, president Tram Huong Khanh Hoa, a major agar wood supplier, Dick Pirozzolo, Pirozzolo Company Public Relations and editorial board of Boston Global Forum and Llewelyn King, host, White House Chronicles airing on PBS.