How to Establish a Brand in China


China's emerging middle class, which keeps growing and becoming stronger, has created numerous opportunities for international business in all sectors. These opportunities, however, also bring competitions, and marketing strategies are key for these business to grow and sustain its market share in China. For many multinational companies based in China, the long-term strategy should address brand building, especially for brands of consumer goods.

But most western marketing strategies adopted by multinational companies turn out to fail in China. Many companies believe that the same marketing campaigns that have been used elsewhere will also be suited to the Chinese market, but this is often not the case. Chinese preferences, tastes and interpretations are different from those of other cultures. Even within China, market demands differ across different regions, due to the country’s 56 ethnic groups who are featuring greatly varied cultures. On the other hand, some foreign companies have localized their brands too much that they have lost their unique appeal.

A 63% majority of international companies operating in China acknowledged that they need to alter their product to suit for the Chinese market. In most cases, this does not mean to completely create a new product or service, but mean to make small adjustments to better satisfy Chinese preferences. On the other hand, too much localization may damage a brand just as badly as not having enough localization. Chinese like foreign products because they are unique and are often seen as luxury items. If a foreign company localizes its products too much, it simply becomes a more expensive version of something Chinese companies already have. Therefore, multinational companies that intend to enter the Chinese market must carefully strike a balance between localization and their original image.

Do not force your Chinese customers to accept your culture: This cannot be stressed enough: it may be risky if copying a strategy that works in your country and directly applying it in a different market. Chinese consumers are sensitive to cultural icons from brands. Tradition and local culture are more appealing for Chinese audience which is a good reference for brands to take into consideration when drafting their market strategy. Localizing your content is essential, and your marketing strategy could, for example, include wordplay. Since Chinese language is a tonal language, you could easily turn your campaign into something humorous.

Influencers are the way to go: As Chinese netizens tend to comment on and share everything they see online, good content can quickly go viral. They trust the judgments made by experts, so Key Opinion Leaders strategy is the way to go if you want your content to be seen by more audience. These experts communicate a brand’s activity or products, and deliver information to a larger audience. In the Fashion industry, it’s important to work on your word-of-mouth marketing, this should be the center of your digital strategy.

Bet on Western clichés: Even though tradition plays a really important role, Chinese consumers are more and more interested in Western culture, which is reflected in their consumption habits. Foreign brands understand this and are trying to integrate it into their marketing strategy. However, Chinese consumers’ image of your country isn’t always accurate and there can be huge variance between what they think and how things truly are in a western country. Consequently, when global brands use ideas originated from their own country, there may still be some communication barriers if applying them in China.

Become an inspirational brand: Focusing on people’s aspirations has always been an effective marketing method, and it could be realized by the product or service you offer or by your communication. Since digital campaigns can be very creative with different formats, it’s easy to create a whole new ecosystem around one idea.

Use online-to-offline opportunities: E-commerce is a huge market in China, and brands want to capitalize on the potential of the Internet to help consumers experience real-life purchases online. Online-to-offline(O2O) practices have made customers’ life easier(usually delivery services), and it also helps the brand keep in touch with its clients. However, the development of O2O services may lead to a price war: as consumers will compare all offers and the cheapest one will win.

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