Posts by Shanaree Laohapongphan - Bangkok

In Thailand, Au Bon Pain rewards a green gesture

cash-voucherAu Bon Pain has launched an offer that appeals to customers’ environmental consciousness as well as their money consciousness. When you order any size of take-away coffee cup without the plastic lid, you get a discount voucher of 10 baht (30 cents) toward your next purchase of a cold beverage. It seems to be a hit, with many people choosing to go lid-free.

Rewarding customers for taking small, easy steps to help the environment is a smart move for any brand, especially in light of recent JWT research that shows the recession has not eroded consumers’ environmental concerns.

Swine flu spurs mask adoption in Thailand

face-masksWearing a hygienic mask used to seem a bit weird in Thailand. Now, with the advent of the H1N1 flu, wearing a mask has become normal practice. Local brands are starting to fill this new niche: Beyond wearing the traditional hygienic masks produced by pharmaceutical companies, Thai people can now buy masks with attractive, even fun designs at an affordable price (about 10–20 baht, or 30–60 cents, vs. about 5 baht for a regular mask).

This situation contributes many opportunities for brands, especially pharmaceutical ones. For example, a brand could give away masks as a social responsibility campaign. Hygienic gel brands could place the product in public areas as a social contribution—a good way to create first trial and real experience with the brand.

Premium beauty brands tempt Thai women with price promotions, workshops

beauty-classNormally, Thai women spend around 4,000-6,000 Baht (about $120-$180) when buying a set of skin care or cosmetics from premium counter brands. Now, many of these brands—including Shiseido, Clinique, Estée Lauder, Lancôme and Kanebo, etc.—have launched a new strategy of minimizing the beauty basket to make it a little more affordable: 3,500-5,000 Baht ($105-$150). The products are the same but come in smaller quantities. In addition, most premium brands are now offering free workshops at their stores, advising women on skin care, makeup application and various other beauty topics of current interest.

Value-adds such as these seem to be an essential component of efforts to lead consumers to actual purchase. And activities like free workshop or training also play an important role in deepening the bond between brand and consumers, especially now. Price promotion alone is not a panacea.

Starbucks vs. McDonald’s plays out in Thailand

mccafe-thailandWith “the java wars intensifying” in the U.S., as The Boston Globe puts it, a Starbucks-McDonald’s rivalry is also heating up around the globe. In Thailand, Starbucks has run a limited-time promotion offering half-price coffee in the afternoon to customers who already bought one in the morning. Now McDonald’s McCafe is fighting back with a two-year-anniversary special: a free upsize of any cup of coffee. Customers can get extra caffeine without extra spending.

Even while running promotional offers, the McCafe brand still does well in maintaining its image as a premium coffee brand that’s available in a nice environment, complete with free Internet access and a variety of magazines. Price promotion doesn’t have to dilute brand image, as long as a brand can figure out how to talk with consumers so that the key message they take away is “It adds value to your life” rather than “You can now afford it.”

The quicker you eat, the more you save

untitledAchieving faster turnover is a consistent challenge for popular restaurants—how to get the most diners fed without customers feeling they’re being rushed out. Shabu Shi, one of the popular buffet-style shabu restaurants in Thailand, has turned recessionary thinking into a positive, coming up with a genuine win-win solution: This month, customers who finish eating within 50 minutes, instead of the usual 80 allotted, get a 15 percent discount.

At a time when many people are choosing to dine out out less frequently, this helps Shabu fans save money while still enjoying their favorite menus (a buffet of sushi, seafood, meat, vegetables and desserts like tropical fruit with ice cream). And it should shorten the queues—patrons normally wait 15-40 minutes to get seated.

Tough situations need not always have negative effects, as long as we can find some room to play. And especially if we can find a way to help customers keep enjoying the product without compromising on quantity or quality.

Starbucks seduces caffeine-heads in Thailand

starbucks-thailandStarbucks here launched a hot-hit promotion for coffee lovers in March, and the limited-time offer has now returned: After 1 p.m., bring in the receipt from your morning purchase to get 50 percent off a beverage purchase. As an added bonus, you can buy up to five cups at the discount price.

How does this affect the brand? By charging full price in the morning, Starbucks retains its brand values and premium image. And by charging half price to coffee advocates in the afternoon, it creates a more affordable first-trial opportunity for those who’ve never tried gourmet coffee. Plus, the offer allows prospective customers to experience the brand with friends. Net result: More coffee sold, and perhaps more Starbucks fans born.

The savvy idea clearly made sense to gourmet-coffee rival McCafe, which quickly launched a copycat promotion in April.

A small-time entrepreneur inspires Thais to look on the bright side

thai-entrepreneurIn an effort to keep up people’s spirits, the Thai media have been diligent about publishing stories aimed at inspiring us in the face of the current economic crisis. A recent example that has especially hit home is an interview with a small-time entrepreneur who found success by changing his life and appealing to people’s good taste.

Siriwat lost his fortune when his investment company failed in 1997 during the Asian Economic Crisis. Despite his misfortune, it didn’t take long for him to get back on his feet—literally. Walking around Bangkok’s office areas with a container of lunch options hanging from his neck, Siriwat battled the crisis by selling 20 sandwiches a day.

Siriwat Sandwich has grown rapidly in both sales and brand awareness. The business model has also shifted: instead of being distributed by a salesman with a container, the sandwiches are now sold at small shops, branded under the name Coffee Corner.

Companies like Siriwat Sandwich should share their inspiring tales with their customers and the world at large. In times of economic downturn, people are looking for everyday stories of resilience.

A boarding pass to a bargain in Bangkok

the-londoner-brew-pubShort-term promotions are rampant among restaurants these days, given the poor economy and even poorer customers. To stand out, the Londoner brew pub is trying a more customized approach. Its offer comes in the form of a “boarding pass” directing its intended audience—including JWT Thailand, which is located in the same building—to depart directly to the restaurant. Our employees are frequent customers of the Londoner, and many of the waitresses know our names. But though we may still go for beers and dinner after work, the restaurant is almost vacant at lunch. And so while there’s no free lunch anywhere in the world, there is 50 percent off lunch in Bangkok—in the form of an imaginative direct promotion.

Getting paid to shop in Thailand

thailandTo help stimulate spending and help people suffering the ill effects of the recession, the Thai government is paying citizens to shop. Well, sort of. It’s distributing 2,000 baht checks (about $56) to people with a monthly income below 15,000 baht ($424) from March 26-April 8.

Brand opportunities? Some retailers, such as the Central and Robinson department stores, are launching “extra value” campaigns for shoppers who redeem their checks at the stores—these customers get discount coupons worth 2,200 baht, so the check can effectively double in value.

Even in hard times, there are always opportunities to strengthen a smart brand—be it a government or a retailer—and build deeper consumer relationships.

Thai women turn to homemade beauty treatments

thai-homemade-beautySpurred by limited budgets, a revival of interest in tradition and a new affinity for natural products, more women here are using everyday supermarket items to make homemade beauty products. They are using traditional formulations for nourishing hair, skin, nails, etc.—passed down through the generations—or coming up with their own and sharing them among friends. The modern twist? Web sites and blogs that bring these beauty secrets to a wider audience.

While this trend poses a challenge to established beauty brands, those that focus on natural beauty and/or ingredients at recession-friendly price points could benefit. DIY beauty can be fun for a while, but the time-strapped consumer will come to appreciate the convenience of a packaged product.