China is a challenging market to operate in, just ask Marks and Spencer. Less than a year after opening a 10th retail location amidst a wave of optimistic rhetoric from its top executives, they are pulling out of China altogether, and swiftly. Adam Colton, Marks and Spencer’s Managing Director for Greater China cited “low brand awareness” as one of the key reasons they were unable to pull out a win in the Middle Kingdom. Um, say that again? Who hasn’t heard of Marks and Spencer? Well, apparently the Chinese haven’t, despite the British high street retailer having operated in China since October of 2008 with the lofty aspirations of having 50 locations in total.
In a recent article in The Telegraph covering the Marks and Spencer retreat from China, one Chinese consumer who was frantically gathering up 36 bottles of Rioja towards the cashier during their final blowout sale, was quoted as saying they would have easily paid regular prices for the wine had they known the store existed. Known the store existed?! Are you serious? Marks and Spencer rented out some of the priciest retail space available in China, and this customer didn’t even know they existed. Something obviously went very, very wrong here. Let’s dig in.
Step 1 is to learn the market and, more importantly, your consumers before you launch into China. One of the major causes that led to the Marks and Spencer exit from the Chinese market was a series of false positives in their assumptions that Chinese consumers would have similar preferences and tastes as their Western counterparts. In order to help you avoid making the same mistakes, here are some great tips that will help you understand your Chinese consumers prior to market entry.
After the buyer persona is identified, now you need to study the market. Due to a different digital landscape, there is very little data available in China to perform thorough market research that will actually give you good data to build a strategy around. The good news is that there is a solution, and that solution is Discripto™. Discripto™ is powerful software that programmatically downloads China’s internet data. The information that can be dug up by Discripto™ allows brands to analyze market trends, companies’ revenues, competitor’s performance, seasonality, and many other factors. Yes, that software is ours and we’re darn proud of it. Let us know if you are interested in a thorough analysis of the Chinese market and we can customize a free deliverable that will knock your socks off while only scratching the surface of what it can produce at full throttle.
As we noted from our lead-in about Marks and Spencer, a huge challenge for brands is low brand awareness in the Chinese market. There’s a lot of noise and it can be tough to be heard. It’s also tough to build loyalty; however, once you’ve built trust in China it’s really hard to lose. But as we now know even if you have a famous brand in the Western world, you’re almost assured to be an unknown (and untrusted) brand in the eyes of your Chinese consumer. This means you’re going to have to start your marketing and branding activities from scratch using a brand new lens. Chinese consumers put a lot of emphasis and trust in brands that they are familiar with, meaning companies with low brand awareness have a ‘higher than Western’ chance of failing in the China market. To help you out, go here for 5 quick and helpful pointers for marketing to Chinese consumers.
To start building a brand in China, companies need to produce a solid strategy that will cover all the important areas of marketing activities, natively. Social media, content marketing, Baidu PPC and SEO etc. are all essential, don’t cut corners here. Also, don’t forget to adapt your products and services to the Chinese consumer tastes. This includes packaging, labeling, QR codes, pretty much anything in the branding family should be localized to the preferences and habits of your target customer.
Beijing-based Web Presence In China (WPIC) is an independent, full service digital marketing and IT development agency. WPIC helps businesses with marketing and tech strategies to succeed in the Chinese market. Having over 13 years of on the ground experience in the China digital sector, the firm has worked with over 300 global companies and leads a team of 120 people between their global offices. WPIC supports China and the greater APAC region in digital and IT solutions.