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John Burton

Same World, Different Perspective

by John Burton, MBA 2012 Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Stephen, Cherie and I (along with 9 other students) went on the UW MBA trip to Vietnam this winter break (I procrastinated this post–I know) and had the chance to see the sights, visit several companies, and try a few unique cuisines. The MBA school also sponsored trips to China, Seoul/Hong Kong, and Turkey all of which were intended to give students exposure to international  business perspectives.

L to R: Cherie, JB, Uncle Ho, and Stephen

The most vivid spectacle in Vietnam was surprisingly their crazy streets. Motorbikes were everywhere, shops and restaurants adorned the ground floor of every building, and it was busy all the time. Crossing the street was a feat of strength rather than the mundane practice here in Madison.  Along with the educational aspects, we also got to have a lot of fun seeing Vietnam. We visited Ha Long Bay, a few very crazy markets in Hanoi and HCMC, a handful of museums, the Cu Chi Tunnels, along with many great restaurants, bars and shops.

The view from a coffee shop Stephen and I went to.

We got to visit businesses in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City such as Turner Construction, Citi Bank, Nestle, and Unilever along with going to the U.S. Embassy. Each place gave us a unique, but consistent perspective of Vietnam’s business climate: the economy is growing rapidly, and infrastructure is struggling to keep up.

On a more applicable level for our careers in marketing research, we really benefited from getting to spend time with Nestle and Unilever’s marketing and strategy teams. Unilever shared some insights about the Vietnamese consumer by showing us that many Unilever products are successful south-east Asia, but deodorantusage isn’t translating as well in Vietnam as you would think. The billboards we saw are nothing like the Old Spice and Dove  ads you see in the US. The benefits Americans think of isn’t the same as the Vietnamese.This simple example illustrates cultural differences really make for major changes to marketing strategy.

At Nestle, we heard from the Milo brand manager who talked to us about marketing strategy in an informal market. Sales though supermarkets make up a really small part of their business in Vietnam, so focusing on trial is key to getting people to know about the brand. An interesting point for researchers was that though internet usage is increasing, consumers aren’t very accessible for surveys via online (or phone methods for that matter). It’s not just that these technologies are not as prevalent as the US; it’s that people don’t see these methods as a place to do business or spend a lot of time. Research companies use face to face interviews to get the data they need. Getting more information seems really complicated, especially as CPG companies don’t have the luxury of scanner data either.

The UW MBA's at Unilever

The sight seeing, business visits, and good company are all big reasons I would recommend going on one of the trips. I feel like I’ve talked about it a lot since, and it has definitely made me think more about the international aspects of my future career.