Maintain Chinese consumers brand loyalty for many Western marketers is not easy as it is not an inherent characteristic of Chinese culture, as some may suppose. Rather, Chinese consumers remain fickle because China has been in a fifteen year rapid rise of its socio-economic situation and where Western companies have entered China and started to bombard consumers with brand choices, brand messages and glittering images of the latest International luxury trends. Throughout this period, I would argue that many multinational companies have not always done an adequate job of identifying and understanding their core Chinese audience and for that mater, target branding appropriately in order to create a brand that resonates for a Chinese consumer.
Here are ten tips for brand marketers looking for some direction when exploring the Chinese landscape.
1. Don’t treat China as a single market.
There are large variations in behaviour, language and culture – more so than in all of Europe – both when it comes to purchasing power and knowledge about product categories and brands. Unless you have massive resources, focus on a narrow area, perhaps a single city or group of Tier cities.
2. Chinese customers sometimes value your brand in a different way from what you have in your home market.
It is important to understand that the Chinese consumer may need to be educated about the product or in some cases the brand owner can learn a few new tricks from the actual consumer in the way their products are used.
3. Select the right distribution channels.
For example, in China, beauty products are sold in department stores and supermarkets with dedicated counters, in cosmetics retailers such as Watson or Sephora, in spas, in drugstores and of course on e-commerce platforms. Each distribution channel has its own advantages: customer advice and the opportunity to try products are important factors in a Chinese consumers mind.
4. Talk to your customers
to find out what their needs and expectations are. Don’t be surprised if you have to adjust both product and messaging, as the Chinese market is often different from your home market.
5. Communicate that you are taking the Chinese market seriously
by selecting a good Chinese brand name, using highest-quality translations, localized photos etc. Don’t just use material from somewhere else, it won’t be taken seriously.
6. Create a unique customer experience.
Chinese customers are nowadays more interested in the experience you can offer than in the brand name. A well-thought storytelling, an attractive packaging, the use of sensory marketing in stores will definitely impact their decision. Just look at this years Singles Day on Tmall and you will notice most of the luxury brands going all out on packaging and design.
7. The Chinese media market is huge
has a fragmented geography and readership. Don’t expect to advertise your way into the market, as it will be hard to reach a narrow audience through paid media. Focus instead on a strategy that aims to get your customers talking and influencing each other.
8. China isn’t that cheap anymore.
This goes for hiring employees, buying products, living in China and especially undertaking marketing.
9. Take online and social media seriously.
In a country as vast as China, online media offers good coverage, and Chinese internet users are very active in sharing their experience with products and services. It is necessary to have a strategy that takes this into account.
10. Leverage the power of the Millennial.
China’s young people are avid consumers and promoters of brands they love. They have a strong preference for social messaging (WeChat is everything) over email, and have a greater trust in brands that use social media.
Like everywhere in the world, brand strategies for China need to be planned, taking in account that some Chinese consumer segments will mature rapidly, especially in the Tier 1 cities, and that shoppers can quickly become loyal to certain brands. As income levels rise across China, a bulk of new consumers will still be first-time buyers of many products and services, all eager to try new brands.
The nuances will become more subtle, yet even more crucial. As Chinese consumers come to better understand the product categories and brands within these categories, their expectations will rise and they will continue to want more quality, value and interest. No longer will they be content with a brand simply because it is big, foreign, or expensive. They will expect their brands to understand and meet their needs, both rationally and emotionally.
China remains one of the world most exciting locations to develop a brand yet it is littered with companies who have tried and failed. Nothing is certain but using some common sense and taking a test and learn approach will help mitigate falling into the deep holes of those before you.