Brain Works Develops New Approach to Support Japanese Companies in Vietnam

With the Vietnamese economy enjoying rapid growth, Japanese companies are increasingly turning their attention to this promising market. Helping them meet the unique challenges of doing business here is Brain Works, an innovative business consultancy with extensive experience throughout Asia.

In the last decade, Vietnam has changed rapidly, with its economy showing significant continuous growth. As this has become apparent, investors from around the world have begun looking to the country for opportunities. However, with its unique culture and history, doing business in Vietnam presents particular challenges, leading companies to enlist the support of consultancies such as Brain Works.

Brain Works has been supporting Japanese companies throughout Asia since the 1990s and has recently begun working with food and craft companies from Hokkaido and Tokushima as they seek to establish themselves in Vietnam. The potential shown by the project has led Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) to include it in its Cool Japan international business promotion program.

Building a foothold in Vietnam

While the project may appear to be an “instant success,” it is actually built on a solid foundation laid by Brain Works. After initially surveying the market, Brain Works selected the Phu My Hung district of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam's largest city, as its base of operations. Until recently, Phu My Hung was swampland but rapid development has seen it transformed into a wealthy, upscale area and it is now called the Orient Beverly Hills.

Brain Works' first move was to set up Japan Style Shop in a mall in Phu My Hung in December 2011. Japan Style Shop is actually a 600 square meter area containing around 100 individual outlets selling a wide selection of Japanese products, ranging from traditional arts and crafts to pop culture toys and other items.

To promote the area, Brain Works staged cultural events and other displays and introduced a point card system allowing customers to collect points for each item they buy. It also set up a Facebook page and published a free magazine to provide information about Japanese and Vietnamese culture.

Expanding Japan's market appeal

The success of this first venture fully alerted Brain Works to the potential of the Vietnamese market, however, it also became keenly aware of the low profile of Japanese companies. This was particularly true in contrast to Korean and Chinese businesses, many of which have been pursuing aggressive image building strategies using television and other media.

While Japanese companies do take part in joint promotions, their visibility is still relatively low, despite strong consumer interest. To address this, Brain Works set up the Japanese Exhibition Center in November 2012, partnering with the companies from Hokkaido and Tokushima and METI. The center mainly focuses on promoting food and culture to create an enjoyable experience for visitors and build a positive image of Japan.

The opening of the exhibition center is well-timed with 2013 being the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Vietnam. Brain Works is hoping the center will become a focal point in deepening relations between the two countries. As well as benefiting companies operating in Vietnam, this should help to increase the flow of tourists traveling to Japan.

In the past, Japan has tended to rely on its established reputation when targeting markets in Asia and has not taken a strategic approach to analyzing consumer needs and expectations. Brain Works intends to changes this and is focused on developing new ways to support Japanese companies as they enter the Vietnamese and wider Southeast Asian market.