Name : Neal Robert
Position : Founder and Operations Director of Synapse Original
Neal Robert is the Founder and Operations Director of Synapse Original Advertising Agency.
Synapse Original is a 360° Advertising Agency resulting from a fusion of international teams; including creative talent and operational expertise with in-depth knowledge and intuition of the country and its people. Its services include Communication Strategy, Branding, Design, Video Production, Social media, Web Development, Media Planning, PR, and Events. Some of its current clients in Yangon include Heineken, KFC, Dove and Tiger beer.
Since when Synapse Original started operating in Myanmar and why did you decide to open up a branch here?
We established our offices in Yangon in September 2013, so we will celebrate our fourth birthday in Myanmar this September. We decided to come here for a few different reasons. First of all, my two business partners and I wanted to develop the project – already initiated in France – in Asia. Indeed, all of us had some experiences abroad and we saw the exciting potential of Myanmar and the challenge of being successful in a country with a different way of thinking, habits and cultural references. We also felt the positive energy and the optimism that is spreading in the country, especially in a city as exciting as Yangon. That was for us a real discovery and we are still learning from it everyday.
What are the difficulties Synapse faced?
To be honest with you, the biggest difficulty has been to adapt to the climate, being used to living in a French dry summer and cold winter, to the warm tropical weather of Myanmar. More seriously, there are of course some difficulties but we know why we decided to come here. That’s why we prefer to find a solution to solve the problem instead of complaining.
How do you differentiate yourself from your competitors in Myanmar?
Synapse Original is unique in the advertising landscape of Myanmar. We are an independent agency; we do not belong to local firms established decades ago or big international firms. This independence gives us the possibility to move fast and to answer to the needs of our clients with probably more application than any other agency in town. Moreover, our 40-strong team is composed of amazingly talented and strong personalities, hailing from 5 different countries including Myanmar, France, Belgium, the UK and Russia. This multi-cultural mix makes us stronger, even more creative and very open-minded. We initiated a very flexible management to fit with the aspirations of our people: we believe that success is a common experience that can be obtained only if everybody is feeling comfortable within the team. About our services, we are the only advertising agency that combines services with the best international standards. This is the case for graphic design, social media management and event management for example.
How would Synapse’s business contribute to the development of Myanmar’s economy?
On a small scale, we are glad and proud to create jobs for our team members with fair conditions of employment. We believe the ideas we bring everyday to our clients, that are mostly nationwide brands, can have a significant impact of the daily life of Myanmar people. We do not think marketing is just a way to increase the sales of a product; it’s also a medium to allow people to live new experiences they have never encountered before. This is particularly true in Myanmar as it was closed for so many years. It is hugely satisfying to see the smiles of all the customers that are coming to the marketing activations we are organizing for our clients, and to see their full participation and excitement.
How has Myanmar’s rapidly changing digital landscape influenced your branding strategy?
Well, we belong to the generation that is born with the Internet and smart phones so digital is naturally at the heart of the strategies we are recommending. Synapse Original builds creative campaigns through all the communication channels. The country needs to take its time to grow but we propose systematically digital activations when we are working on a campaign especially when you know that Facebook is considered as “the Internet” for the majority of people. Moreover, the digital allows the brand to communicate directly to their customer so it’s a very interesting channel we will continue to use more and more in the coming years.
What are your opinions on brands utilizing native advertising as part of a marketing strategy?
Synapse Original builds creative campaigns through all the communication channels and all the advertising tools are important. A campaign can only have a complete impact if it is built up through all media channels. Anyway, it’s essential to bring content in the context of the user experience. Create, innovative, solutions. Nothing else matters. Only cool stuff bubbles up. Instead of using marketing to shove things out and yell, it’s about creating things that draw people in. Things that make them want to come and learn/ see/engage more.
Which media channels would be suitable for advertising in Myanmar? Please give some product and target market examples.
We focus on the brand’s consumers and make sure to adjust the message according to the channels. If your target is the millennial, you will push the digital networks. However, if the brand wants to talk to an older generation living in the countryside, you know that a Facebook ad might not be very efficient.
What makes your company stands out and what are your recent outstanding campaigns here?
Actually, Synapse Original delivers real experiences to the target audiences because we consider that today; people don’t really care anymore about just the brands but more on what they bring to them. If you give people the tools and the story, they will naturally become the advocates of your brand. We push to create communities with a vision, the same long-term vision of the brand. Our last campaign for Tiger Beer brand was a real success as we inspired people to think forward by showing the real stories of three Myanmar artists.
Is there anything like culture and tradition of Myanmar hindering activity and creativity of Synapse?
There are rules you must to abide by wherever you are and by advertising in Myanmar; we accept these rules as it makes us develop creative messages that are unique to Myanmar. We see it as an exciting challenge and opportunity to create this content and really leave a lasting impression here in Yangon and beyond.
What’s unique about Myanmar consumers/market?
Myanmar opened to the world only 5 years ago and its consumers are keen to experience new products and services. The market is not saturated at all and people are still curious to try new things to improve their daily life. Also, we believe the citizens are creating their own rules. The main example is the use of Facebook as a favourite web platform to browse, share, buy and comment on content.
What is the target market segment for Synapse in Myanmar?
Synapse Original targets the FMCG brands with a real understanding of how a creative campaign can help them to stand out in Myanmar’s market.
What are the differences between working in Myanmar and in France/other countries?
In Myanmar, there is dynamism and an energy that’s more difficult to find again in Europe or in the West. We feel that Myanmar people would like to move on after decades of immobility, which is very nice to see. Also, Myanmar is a young country where it’s important to always keep in mind, more than half the population is under 25 years old. This has a true influence on the way the society is evolving. Sometimes of course, we can face some technical difficulties when there is no water in the water tank or when electricity cuts, but our colleagues are very resourceful and always find solutions. We feel things are less strict and easier than in some western countries where regulations kill any entrepreneurial spirit.
What do you think will be the next big trend in digital advertising?
The digital revolution has just started in Myanmar and we are sure this is only the beginning. The development of infrastructures will allow the advertisers to create interesting concepts such as pop-up websites or dedicated applications that require a faster connection than the one currently available in the country. Moreover, the way in which Myanmar people will use the Internet will change and people will of course shop or read online which will create new advertising spaces. Anyway, digital advertising in Myanmar will follow the same trends than in the rest of the world, especially big data marketing applications that include market and customer insight and predictive analytics.
How do you expect to grow Synapse in the next 1 to 3 years in Myanmar?
According to the last World Economic Outlook published by the IMF in April 2016, Myanmar is the world’s fastest-growing economy and this should be the case for at least the next 15 years. This fills us with huge positivity about the future for Synapse Original in Myanmar. The advertising market is currently much smaller than other countries of the ASEAN, such as Vietnam or the Philippines, and Myanmar has more than 50 million habitants. So, advertisers will increase their advertising budgets to reach more people. Our turnover has been multiplied by 10 in 2015 and by 4 in 2016 so we believe it will continue on this trend in the coming years. We will welcome even more talented people to our team and we plan to open a new office in Mandalay within the next year. Within 3 years, the development of Synapse Original will go from one of the smaller and specialized agencies to become the global expert marketing agency in Myanmar.