A marketing lesson from the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam


(This post was first published on Steemit)

This week I am working out of Hanoi, Vietnam and it is just as insane as everyone told me it would be.

The street food is amazing, but is served on barely washed plates at tiny, playground-sized dirty tables, literally on the filthy back streets of this amazing city.

The people are very warm and friendly, but if you want to see real salesmanship in action, just wander the streets of The Old Quarter for an hour.

And of course, the traffic is insane. Batshit, box-of-frogs crazy.

However, from this apparent chaos, there seem to be 5 main rules for a happy and healthy life in Hanoi:

  1. You have to continually drive as fast as you can, on the wrong side of the road, directly at other road users and hope they'll move at the last minute
  2. If you’re a pedestrian crossing the road, you need to walk leisurely and without any apparent fear in order to avoid death, or worse, extensive injury to your groinal area
  3. When travelling in a car you must find a mother with at least two children under 3 to sit (without seatbelts) in the passenger seat
  4. The dirtier the restaurant/bar/street cafe looks, the better the food (and the food costs about £1.20 for a main course!)
  5. Make sure you’re using a mobile phone at all times, especially if you're in some kind of motorised vehicle. EXPERT TIP: If your text is important, feel free to stop in the middle of the road to finalise your reply before sending

Of course, if you know anything about Vietnam (or you’ve seen the Top Gear special) then you’ll know that they use their horns… incessantly.

I asked our driver why this was and he frowned, spread his arms (whilst driving) and explained, “You have to use your horn to tell the other drivers you’re there!”

“Ahhh, I see!”, I lied.

However, after watching the traffic for a while and having seen a near-miss practically every 60 seconds, it's clear to me that motorists truly believe this.

And it's a system that kind of works in a weird way over here.

However, there's something that bothers me about it all (and it's not the fear of getting cut in half by a pensioner on a motorbike carrying a scythe – true story).

It's this:

If everyone has a horn, then surely nobody has a horn?


What I mean is that if everyone is beeping to alert their potential murderer of their presence, then the horn doesn’t actually serve its purpose of being a warning – it's such a common noise that nobody pays any attention to it.

So it seems to become a competition of who has the loudest or most aggressive horn (or most varied ‘horning methodology').

Based on my extensive, 27-hour experience of being here, I've (rather arrogantly) summarised the 4 main types of Horners you're likely to find in Hanoi:

  1. The Monohorners: they lean on the horn for up to 5 seconds, then break for 5 seconds, then repeat
  2. The Dabbers: they jab at the horn over and over again throughout their journey, hoping the repetition will be enough to secure them another day on this earth
  3. The Sequencers: These would-be Motoring-Musicians pip out a little tune that would be considered jaunty, if it wasn’t getting increasingly louder as they steam up behind you in attempt to make you an unwilling, makeshift front-basket for their Vespa
  4. The Dicks: These guys put their thumb on the horn when they set off from home, and only let go when they arrive at their destination

This seems to be much like the state of marketing these days, especially on Facebook. (Here comes the mangled metaphor…)

You see, in the old days, the only people who knew how to make and run adverts were ‘Marketing guys' with big budgets and shiny shoes.

This meant advertising was a bit arty and, usually, very well thought out (“The water in Majorca don’t taste like it oughta”).

In fact, we would often discuss or even mimic the adverts the next day (“Oh Tooonnny: You know when you've been Tangoed!”)

(If you're not from the UK, these references may be lost on you!)

Nowadays, everybody has a ‘horn'.

Anyone can run an advert on Facebook, and our news feeds are full of business owners using their horn like one of the four types of Vietnamese motorists I've met this week.

There’s rarely any thought that goes into the advert or placement. It’s just the equivalent of someone pressing their horn, and hoping they’re gonna get noticed.

So what’s the solution?

Hey… Let’s see how far I can stretch this metaphor shall we..?

There seems to be several ways you can be noticed in Vietnamese traffic:

1. Be an authority.

No matter how loud your horn is, people will always yield to an authority like the police.

Their horn is very different and commands immediate respect.

If you establish yourself as an authority on Facebook, you're almost guaranteed to get attention.

2. Stick to streets with less traffic.

Like the savvy Hanoi motorists who drive up alleys to avoid the traffic, you can run your advert to a small sub-section of the Facebook community, rather than the ‘main road' which includes every Facebook user.

For example, imagine you sell dog food.

Instead of running an advert to every dog owner on Facebook, where you're competing with hundreds of thousands of other advertisers, all trying to get the attention of dog owners, you can run an advert in ‘streets’ where there are fewer other advertisers – E.g. owners of Dobermans only.

This way you can actually ‘call out' the Doberman owners in your advert, and use a Dobie in the image!

This has the double advantage that not only is it easier to be noticed, but Dads of Dobermans across the UK feel as if your product is perfect for their 50kg baby!

Then you just replicate the advert, individually targeting each of the other breeds.

Are there fewer people gonna see each advert? Of course! However, there'll be much less ‘traffic' driving down that street.

Is it going to take more work? Yup… but I bet your competitors are too busy perfecting their horn technique to notice you're quietly hoovering up their prospects.

3. Ride on the back of an experienced rider.

Don’t try and navigate the street alone. Find someone who’s already using their horn in a way that makes people listen to them, and jump on the back!

For example (and using the Pet Food industry again) if you know of a big pet shop who advertises to your target market on Facebook, why not ask if you can buy their leads off them?

Or at the very least, see if you can get their prospects to subscribe to your email list (this is called ‘Co-registration' and is a brilliant strategy that barely anyone is using right now.)

You’ll be surprised how well this works!

Are these groundbreaking strategies? Nope.

Are you already using them? Probably not.

And if not, then perhaps you could take another look at how you are marketing.

After all, if nobody is taking any notice of your beeping, what's the point of getting on your bike in the first place?

NOTE: Whilst no motorists were harmed in the making of this article, the author was saddened to hear that his metaphor passed away shortly after publication.