Encouraged by information accessible through social media channels, Cambodian millennials are in “full exploration mode” as they seek personalised experiences and look for products that make them stand out from the crowd, concluded a report released this month by an international market research agency.
The study, released by the Cambodian branch of international market research group Kantar TNS, categorised the average young to middle-aged local consumer as being a discerning shopper in the hunt for a good deal. They are also found to have little loyalty to specific brands or products.
“They are always looking for better deals as VFM [value for money] is very important. They are willing to try new things and pay more if they believe they are worth it,” the report reads.
Chem Srey Oeun, research manager at Kantar TNS and author of the study, says that while they are willing to disburse more for products and services than their parent’s generation, millennials are also more discriminating shoppers. “They are looking for new and tailored experiences and products that increase their status within society,” she says.
The study finds several other trends prevalent among “Generation Y” consumers in the Kingdom, including a tendency to be entrepreneurial. Nancy Jaffe, director of strategy and research at local marketing and media firm MangoTango Asia, also sees entrepreneurship as a distinctive trait of this demographic cohort.
“There are so many microentrepreneurs in this country, and most of them belong to the millennial generation. They are running little Facebook shops. They are selecting stuff from [Chinese online shopping service] Taobao and getting it shipped here. For many, it’s not a necessity. It’s a fun thing,” she says.
According to Mekong Strategic Partners – an investment, corporate advisory, and risk management firm covering the Greater Mekong Region – 69 percent of Cambodian working adults are self-employed.
The Kantar TNS study also describes millennials as being “less careful, more confident, open minded, optimistic and goal oriented” than the previous generation.
For MangoTango’s Jaffe, pride in their culture and history is another defining characteristic of this demographic, and a factor international brands looking to appeal to it should not disregard.
“This generation is still trying to redefine what it means to be Cambodian, and what are the positive things about being Cambodian. As consumers, they want products that feel authentically Cambodian, but that also connect them to the outside world.”
According to Jaffe, an example of an international company integrating Khmer cultural pride into their marketing campaigns is German food and beverage brand Knorr. A 2012 Knorr TV commercial shows a mother preparing a feast for the Pchum Ben celebration, cooking to the backdrop of traditional pinpeat orchestra music. She adds the firm’s trademark bouillon cubes, with the mouth-watering smells of fresh home-made stew wafting through the air and reaching the nostrils of passerby on their way to the pagoda.
“It was very much about taking a modern western convenient product and putting it into a Cambodian context in a very appealing way,” says Jaffe.
Kantar TNS’s Srey Oeun is of the same mind when it comes to capitalising on feelings of patriotism and cultural pride. Brands hoping to appeal to Generation Y must come up with products and services that offer international-standard quality, but integrate local values, she believes.
“Cambodian don’t like to be ‘over westernised’. If a coffee shop is too western, they won’t go there. People here are attracted by western-standard products and services that also incorporate Khmer values and culture,” she notes.
A value deeply rooted in Khmer society that foreign firms need to consider is humility, added Srey Oeun. “Cambodians are buddhist, and so we place a lot of value on being modest, humble and considerate. It’s part of the culture.”
Breaking into the local market
“It’s a great time for international brands to come in,” says Jaffe. “Cambodians are now beginning to discover new product categories that previously they weren’t aware of. The possibilities are limitless.”
To attract the Cambodian millennial consumer, Todd Hunkin, research director at MSD, recommends firms to be on the cutting edge of marketing. “Cambodian millennials recognise which brands are truly innovative and which are copying the popular trend of the moment. You need to be the innovator,” he said.
A recent example, explains Hunkin, would be serialised videos sponsored by brands which are published for free on Facebook. “These videos are proving to be both popular and effective at the moment.”
Srey Oeun agrees with Hunkin in that innovation is key, but reiterates that international firms must strive to harmonise their marketing campaigns with local cultural norms and values, while bearing in mind young Cambodians’ appetite for different and original experiences and products.