There is a famous story “A million pound bank note” written by Mark Twain. In this story, Henry, an American sailor, went to England without any penny. He involved in a bet between 2 rich men: they bet if they gave him a million pound bank note, he would never spend any penny. Henry received the bank note and went to a restaurant. He showed the restaurant owner the bank note and he didn’t have to pay any pound for it. The rumor flew, the city merchandiser were fighting for taking care of him with no string attached.
This fictitious story reflects a truth: the behavior of human is often affected by a recognized image value. In the consuming world, building a strong brand image is essential to every company.
Recently, in an interview with Reuters, Trung Nguyen coffee owner talked about Starbucks: “They do not sell coffee, instead they sell coffee-flavored water with sugar.”
There are two interesting stories related to the role of the “shaking” brand image in this Trung Nguyen subjective “coffee-flavored” comment: is it true that Starbucks sells “coffee-flavored water with sugar”? and if that is true, so why is Starbucks the most favorite coffee brand not only in Seattle (the headquarter of Starbucks), or in the U.S but also in all over the world.
For any one who has read the book “Pour your heart into it” written by Howard Schultz knows that before becoming a popular brand, Starbucks won the hearts of coffee drinkers in the U.S by the only weapon: the great quality and flavor of Brazilian Arabica coffee processed in the style of Italian espresso.
However, if Starbucks had only relied on the quality, it would not have become a typical brand of coffee culture these days. Strarbucks appeals to the coffee lovers by the emotional connection instead of single flavor and taste of the roasted Arabica coffee beans (Howard Schultz’s secret in the early days)
Dang Le Nguyen Vu is truly passionate and ambitious to turn Trung Nguyen into a world coffee capital. However, before conquering the world, Trung Nguyen should start to conquer the hearts of Vietnamese coffee drinkers. Trung Nguyen seemed to achieved this in the 90s when we hit Trung Nguyen cafes anywhere. At that time, Vietnamese consumers are strongly impressed by and started to learn about Trung Nguyen coffee culture.
What’s about the current story? Trung Nguyen has exported raw coffee beans and sold coffee products in 60 nations in the world. It’s admirable! However, the impression of Trung Nguyen coffee in the heart of Vietnamese is no longer “strong”, if not say it’s spirit has becoming diluted. These days, Highland, Gloria Jeans or Coffee Beans have been overshadowed the image of Trung Nguyen. In a recent research market on brand image among Vietnamese coffee drinkers, Highland is considered as a dynamic coffee brand of the businessmen (100% respondents), Coffee Beans is associated with luxury coffee for educated people (nearly 90% respondents). And it’s not clear where Trung Nguyen is positioning.
Trung Nguyen is in the process of strong brand development. As in the interesting Mark Twain story, to make their admirable ambition come true, Trung Nguyen coffee needs “the million pound bank note” as a visa to fly to the world outside. It’s not simply the quality “selling coffee-flavored water with sugar” like the comment of Trung Nguyen’s owner.
Dang Le Nguyen Vu seems to be aware of this issue as talking about how to differentiate a coffee brand in the world marketplace: “The American consumers do not need another new product. They need another story.”
With my love for Vietnamese brands, I hope that Trung Nguyen will gain “the million pound note” in the near future.
Nguyen Duc Son
Brand Strategy Director – Richard Moore Associates