Interview with Lynette Chong General Manager of Phibious Myanmar
Charlie Greene
October , 2016

Phibious is an independent brand and digital marketing company with offices in Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, Myanmar and association in Laos. Lynette Chong is the general manager of Phibious Myanmar who previously worked for Loi Hein Group of Companies, Rocket Internet SE and Synpulse Management Consulting.

Why did Phibious decide to open a Myanmar branch?

We incorporated the company in on 23 December 2015. We had been eyeing Myanmar for a long time and really believe in the growth opportunities here especially for an advertising company like ourselves. Finally, we decided to take the leap of faith and expanded into Myanmar once we won our anchor client, Ooredoo. We are currently their agency for all digital efforts.

What are the difficulties Phibious faces in Myanmar compared to Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam?

There are definitely many difficulties, however, the number one issue is finding skilled labour. Phibious is very strong in digital marketing and there are many aspects of the online segment including GSP(Google Sponsored Posts), GDN(Google Display Network), Facebook paid ads etc. As the Internet only became affordable and available for the masses a few years ago, there are not many Myanmar nationals who are skilled in digital or online marketing. For our offices in other countries, there are plenty of skilled labours with digital experience.

Another issue is the inflation of property prices and wages which make it difficult to enter the market when starting up. This makes setting up a new office difficult because quality office spaces are rare and usually very expensive compared to the other countries. Similarly, as skilled labour is not plentiful, the wages are inflated compared to neighboring countries. Hence, we need to put aside a large amount of investment and funds before entering into the market.

How do you hire/develop local talent here in Myanmar?

When I hire I do not look for skills. I look for hungry and humble people who are willing to learn and want to learn. Hungry because if you are not willing to learn, you would be never be happy with whatever I teach you. Humble because that is the most important personality set that will make you successful, do not assume that when you learn just a little bit of something, you become better than your peers, colleagues or direct supervisor. Be humble and know that there will always be someone better than you.

What’s unique about Myanmar consumers/market?

From a very marketing standpoint, [Myanmar consumers] are extremely engaged, proactive and adventurous with brands which is a two-way sword and makes it a very challenging environment for companies like us.

For example, they are very keen to try new things such as a new drink product, a new snack, or a new service. And if they like it, they are very vocal about it, they will tell their friends, and they will spread the word.

On the flip side, because they are very vocal, they are also not really kind to brands if they are unhappy. They are expressive in their dislikes and they make it known. Therefore, I feel that they are not very brand loyal but who could blame them, there are so many products suddenly in the market for them to try. Thus, it is a very unique situation and companies like us have to think about different ways to win back their loyalty and this is what we love to do, to be the unfair advantage.

How do you differentiate yourself from your competitors in Myanmar?

First and foremost, we are an independent agency, which means we are a very tight knit company not only in Myanmar but also across all of our other offices. Very easily, anyone in Myanmar can get the support of an expert in Indonesia or jump on a call with our group CEO in Vietnam. This is very different from the big international agencies and it is very obvious whenever someone joins the company and they used to work for big advertising firms, the difference is immediate.

Another thing is we are very known in Asia for our work and we were awarded that in last year campaign Asia. We were the only agency nominated for 7 awards and we won all 7 including Independent Agency of the Year! For this year, the award would be held in December and we cannot wait for another massive win.

Who are some of the big clients you have worked with?

We have worked with two of the most important brands in the world: Coca Cola and Google.

Our proudest moment in Phibious was in 2014 whereby we worked on Coca Cola Fifa World Cup TVC. We love that project because it was filmed and aired in many countries thus it was a huge production for us.

We do a lot of work for Google in Cambodia and Vietnam. In Cambodia, we did a massive PR event “Build Your Own Adventure” whereby we did a real life virtual stimulation of how Google Street View would be able to bring Angkor Wat alive.

Who are some of the Myanmar clients you’ve worked with?

LC: At the moment, we are only working with Ooredoo as we are very selective with our client base. But we have met with many other clients from multinational corporations to Myanmar owned companies from all industries such as agriculture to FMCG. There are a lot of demand in Myanmar and we are definitely looking at a solid client base in the next few months. And hopefully I get to share that with you when that comes.

How has Myanmar’s rapidly changing digital landscape influenced your branding strategy?

The obvious growth is in social media, hence our branding strategy would be very much anchored into social media. Our work speaks for itself so we are hoping to share not only Myanmar work but the work in our other countries like Indonesia and Cambodia.

What are your opinions on brands utilizing native advertising as part of a marketing strategy?

Fantastic! I think native advertising isa way to go and we are a huge fan of it. It is a very natural way to introduce your product. The traditional way was always billboards or advertisements in newspapers or magazine which introduced a one way marketing communication and message. It is also usually very “sales” oriented. Native advertising is a new and modern way of introducing your product in a very natural way, coupled by a 2 way communication and usually a very strong call to action. Usually not sales oriented and gives a feel similar to a product review.

What do you think will be the next big trend in digital advertising?

Content platforms. Myanmar people love to read and Myanmar has one of the highest literacy rate in the world. They love entertainment and lifestyle news. There are some key players currently in the market however, nobody is truly a winner now.

If you could change one major government policy, what would it be?

It would be the reduction of restrictions on financing – both locally and intercountry.

For a company like us, providing advertising solutions for our clients on Google and Facebook is our specialty. However, there are certain sanctions in place for financing or paying America bank accounts. We sometimes face this kind of issues but we have since found solutions to this.

How do you expect to grow Phibious in the next 1 to 3 years in Myanmar?

When we first started 14 years ago, our first office in Cambodia we have grown about 150 people across the markets. We anticipate the Myanmar economy to grow rapidly, and will be transporting the phibious DNA into Myanmar – which is great talents, being playful is about experimenting with innovative ideas, being playful in our welfare and culture, being thoughtful is about how we can help our client business grow, because we believe our client will grow in line with our growth. We have very ambitious short term and long term plans.

Short-term plans is that we want to build up a solid team, who eat, live and breathe creativity and advertising. Long-term plans is to increase our digital services and in other marketing communication platforms such as sports marketing and original content production.

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