The story below is written by Ton Nu Thi Ninh, president of the Ho Chi Minh City Peace and Development Foundation, in response to Tuoi Tre newspaper’s ‘Ho Chi Minh City Goes Global’ contest. It was edited by Tuoi Tre News for clarity, consistency, and coherence.

I find the theme ‘Ho Chi Minh City Goes Global’ exciting and the contest through an open forum quite timely.

I have been interested in nation branding for Vietnam for decades. Similarly, Ho Chi Minh City needs proactive and effective branding. Now may be a good time. Let me share just a few preliminary thoughts in this regard.

1. Why does our city need branding?

– Because this is a competitive world out there in Southeast and East Asia where such countries as Korea not long ago had a nation branding unit within the president’s office, which was thus in a position to foster the Korean Wave or Singapore, the city state, which has been single-mindedly strategic in how to promote itself. As for New Zealand, although somewhat geographically isolated in the region, it is also deliberately “marketing” itself through Enterprise New Zealand, which I have had the opportunity to visit.

– Because within Vietnam itself our city is facing stiff competition from sister cities such as Hanoi and the central region cluster of Danang – Hoi An – Hue in terms of attracting attention and interest from potential international visitors and partners.

– Because we have to position ourselves distinctively in the eyes, minds and hearts of the outside world so that we may stand out, provoke curiosity to find out and discover enticing opportunities that will keep international friends and partners engaged with us fruitfully over time.

2. What do we need to do?

We need to identify what we believe our defining features, salient strengths, and relative attractiveness are, how we wish to be perceived and recognized, but also to find out what the perspective is from people outside Vietnam, including the five-million-strong Vietnamese diaspora, or from the expatriate community in Vietnam.

There may be a gap between the two. Therefore, we have to, on the one hand, live up to expectations linked with our own desired self-branding, and on the other hand, to communicate that brand effectively to the international audiences.

This will entail pointing to less perceived salient points of attraction and differentiation besides broadly recognized features.

Reaching consensus on what defines our city’s brand will not be easy as opinions on the matter can diverge greatly. For example, which labels, characteristics stand out most from a long list of possibilities such as: vibrant, pulsating, energizing, creative, diverse, exciting, bold, enterprising, forward looking, contrasting, and so on?

– That is why an open forum where different views, ideas and suggestions can be put forth and debated is important because the end product – our city’s branding – cannot simply be the work of professionals if it is to be alive, strong and sustained: it needs recognition, support and contribution by all stakeholders from government to business, culture and communication professionals to city residents i.e. society at large. In other words, defining and building up the message is centrally important, but the message has to translate into consistent, coordinated and effective action by all relevant quarters, institutional and individual, public and private.

3. Allow me to round off this very succinct first take by sharing a few suggestive hints as to taglines, which are indispensable in any promotion or branding drive, just as food for thought. What about:

– Come to where East meets West: come to Ho Chi Minh City

– Ho Chi Minh City: Where legacy and future meet/merge

– Ho Chi Minh City: City of the future in the East

– Ho Chi Minh City: Mosaic of colours and cocktail of flavours

– Feel the pulse, listen to the buzz of Saigon – Ho Chi Minh City

4. Finally, a very specific recommendation: just as Incheon Airport made smart use of long airport corridors to welcome incoming international visitors with such nation branding posters as Dynamic Korea or Creative Korea, why do we not use such corridors at Tan Son Nhat Airport to promote Ho Chi Minh City to foreign visitors, such as ‘Vibrant Ho Chi Minh City’ or ‘Energizing Ho Chi Minh City’, and so on?

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