Why your brand needs a strong story & message to succeed in China

Wednesday April 17, 2019 - Posted by:

For any brand that has aspirations to succeed on a global level, there is no denying the huge potential on offer in China.

In addition to its vast population (more than 1.4 billion people, nearly a fifth of the total population of the world), the country is home to an expanding middle class. Rural consumers with steadily rising incomes represent a growing opportunity for retailers and ecommerce businesses, not only within China but internationally as well.

Globally, retail ecommerce sales will surpass $3.56 trillion (£2.72 trillion) this year, according to eMarketer, and China will account for more than half ($1.99 trillion) of that total.

Monica Peart, eMarketer senior forecasting director, said: “Across the country, each ecommerce platform attracts different customers looking for specialisation in certain product categories, or consumers from the more or less urbanised regions, making for a very diverse field.”

This size and diversity makes a venture into the Chinese market an attractive prospect for many international companies.

If your business has its eye on China, it’s vital to understand the idiosyncrasies of the country and what its consumers expect from retailers and ecommerce brands.

A UNIQUELY DEMANDING MARKET

One of the most dangerous pitfalls international brands can fall into when launching into the Far East is assuming strategies that have worked well in Western markets will prove just as effective in China.

This is a completely unique market that has its own set of customer expectations, cultural norms, challenges and opportunities.

While local brands are likely to have an innate understanding of these factors and what they mean for business, international competitors need to do their research and invest time in understanding the country and its people.

From a purely technological perspective, the digital channels and platforms brands use to connect with their customers in China are completely different from those that dominate in the West. The likes of Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are all blocked, with consumers in the country tending to favour Baidu for web search, WeChat and Weibo for social media, and Youku for video.

Perhaps more importantly, there are significant differences in how customers relate to brands and what they expect of them. International businesses, in particular, need to have a strong brand story and message to distinguish themselves from local competitors and effectively engage with customers in China.

TELLING YOUR STORY

To succeed in China, you need to identify the most effective technologies and platforms to reach your customers, but you must also be able to make well-researched, informed judgements about the types of content that will help you tell your story and build a brand identity.

In a blog for Econsultancy, Ashley Dudarenok, a long-time resident of China and founder of start-ups including training company ChoZan, stresses that Chinese consumers are “very much content-driven”. They are more likely to follow and engage with brands whose content demonstrates values and beliefs they can relate to.

“The concept that ‘content is king, but context is god’ applies to this market,” writes Ms Dudarenok. “In the past, emotional content tended to resonate more with users, but now Chinese people are more interested in content that’s entertaining and fun.”

As Chinese Language Day (April 20th) approaches, it’s vital you are using language in the right way to ensure your marketing is having the intended impact in the country. That means not just translating your messaging, but researching the market and investing in expert services such as localisation to ensure it’s fully relevant and appropriate.

With tools like these on your side, you can do the best possible job of telling a story and creating a brand identity that makes an impact in China and sets you apart from competitors. One of the most effective ways of doing this is through social media, which plays a fundamental part in 21st-century life in the country.

Another vital step on the journey to success in China for international companies is choosing the right name. As well as navigating the legal process of registering your business – which can be rigorous and complex – you need to decide on a name that works not only in the Chinese language, but in local dialects as well. With so many dialects spoken across the country, this can be a challenge.

Generally speaking, there are three routes you can go down when choosing your Chinese name:

  • Finding a Chinese equivalent that sounds like your English name and effectively represents your brand (the best, but most difficult and least likely option).
  • Going with something that sounds like your English name, but has no real meaning in Chinese.
  • Choosing a name that strongly conveys your brand in Chinese, but doesn’t sound like your name in English.

Finding a strong name is a critical part of establishing your firm in China, and research and support from linguistic experts will prove invaluable in helping you get it right.

COMPETITION BETWEEN GLOBAL AND LOCAL BRANDS

A major challenge facing all businesses in China – but particularly international brands – is holding your own against the competition. In 2019, competitors are just as likely to come from within China as from foreign countries, on the back of a recent trend that has seen Chinese consumers take more pride in local brands.

In 2017, the country celebrated its first Chinese Brands Day, which was seen as part of a move away from the concept of simply ‘made in China’ to ‘created in China’.

Despite this, there is still a huge market for international brands in China, with eMarketer estimating that around a quarter (24 per cent) of local digital shoppers made a cross-border purchase in 2018.

Many prestigious Western brands have seen success in their efforts to engage with Chinese consumers, such as Michael Kors, which used last year’s New York Fashion Week as an opportunity to further its collaboration with actress Yang Mi. It also worked directly with Chinese student groups and university associations to drive word-of-mouth marketing on WeChat.

British fashion house Burberry has enjoyed rising sales in China, but has also experienced first-hand the negative repercussions of launching a campaign that is out of step with the tastes and cultural references of the local audience.

This is clearly a unique and demanding market, but it’s also one that holds vast potential for international businesses. If you have a strong grasp of what matters to local customers and an effective strategy to tell your brand’s story, China could be a key step on your road to international success.

Contact Locaria to find out how we can help you achieve results in global markets, or call us on +44 (0)20 3948 6800.

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