Marketing in China – a CWA guide

As one of the content contributors for CBBC China Business Handbook 2016, CWA has written an article about marketing and branding in China. You will be able to find the article in chapter 3.4 “Marketing in China”, page 78 of the China Business Handbook 2016, which has been published by CBBC in Oct 2015. CWA proudly shares the full content of this article as below:

Marketing in China

When entering the Chinese market, the first step for many companies is to consult your legal representatives and seek professional financial advice. These are important and practical first steps to establish your business. At the same time, however, to run a business successfully it’s crucial to consider how you are going to cement your market position and grow.

This guide comprises two elements. The first considers your brand strategy and the second looks at your practical communication activities.

Understanding your Brand Value in the Chinese Market

Research conducted by CWA in China for British SMEs has shown the Chinese perception of a British brand is that it stands for quality, reliability, tradition, prestige and that it is assured and trustworthy.

Instead of buying fake and copycat brands, the Chinese middle classes are increasingly pursuing quality, originality and personality. A well-designed British brand not only requires knowledge about the look and feel of the product, but more importantly it needs a strategic position and vision. Don’t be mistaken into thinking only consumers have preconceptions about “Britishness”. Chinese businesses too have ideas of what British companies are like when looking for suppliers and partners.

Step 1: Positioning – Don’t sell yourself too cheaply

Even if you are a value brand domestically, you should reconsider how you position yourself in China, because if you go head to head with Chinese competitors on price, it’s unlikely you’ll win.

So what are the value adding attributes of your brand compared to your competitors in China and in the UK? Are they your product quality, brand heritage, industrial experience or specialist knowledge? Or are they your professional and dedicated workforce and extensive dealer network? Or perhaps even a combination of these?

How your customers or clients see you and think about you will be based on your unique selling points. Extensive market research is essential in establishing your position and building awareness of your brand in a crowded market.

Step 2: Developing a trustworthy and convincing brand story

Once you have decided on your positioning, it’s time to communicate to your audience. A brand story which is less formal and dry than a traditional vision and mission statement can be your differentiator. By telling the audience about who you are, on what your brand heritage is based and what makes your product and service range unique, you can create immediate interest. There is no defined format for a brand story as its informality is what enables you to show your true character and the personalities behind your business. It can really engage your audience and build the initial trust and bond with your audience.

Your brand story sits at the heart of your brand personality and creates the initial perception your audience has of your business. It represents how you are seen and felt from the outset. It is therefore important to remember that your brand story is not a sales tool but a bridge that enables you to develop a relationship with your audience.

Step 3: Developing a communication strategy – Messages are as important as media

A communication strategy consists of your messages and the media that carry these messages. Companies, big and small, are often proactive in identifying opportunities in PR, advertising, exhibitions, trade fairs, social media and e-commerce. They are eager to showcase themselves through these channels because it maximises their reach to a wide target audience. But they often neglect what messages they want to communicate. And the message is what has the potential to make them stand out.

To this end, when communicating, consideration should always be given to product benefits. What are the unique selling points? What are the values on which the organisation is based? Strive to avoid clichés as they are just that. It sounds simple, but a lot of companies struggle in this area. Instead, think about your brand story – which one or two aspects of your brand story you can expand upon? How do your communication activities reflect your brand personality?

When you develop your communication strategy, remember that customers are not the only audience with which you need to communicate. You also need to communicate to your internal teams and stakeholders and your external channels, including suppliers and industry influencers. Only when all are on board can you deliver and perform to your fullest potential.

Communications During Expansion

You now know how you position yourself in the Chinese market, and have developed a brand story. But are you ready to communicate to the market and then deliver on what you say?

We notice many companies focus the bulk of their communication efforts on their customers, be it B2B or B2C. However, internal communication is equally important, if not more so.

Internal Communication

Expanding into the Chinese market is not a decision you have taken lightly. At the very least the cultural differences will be felt by everyone in the company. Are they prepared for this new market? What are employees’ attitudes towards this move? Do they have an open mind to the challenges they will face in operations, finance, production, legal, and every other aspect of the business? Will they embrace these challenges or will they wish you had never looked at the Chinese market in the first place?

You may think this is the responsibility of management and HR but internal communication is perhaps the most powerful tool at your disposal. Try things like organising a creative and energising workshop for your employees to ‘experience’ China; or even to mimic a ‘best and worst case scenario’ to help everyone see for themselves and understand how their respective functions will be impacted. It is also important to communicate the possibilities your expansion into China could present to individuals and to the company as a whole.

Always keep your mind open to creativity. The key is to engage employees to get them on board, so that they can support the company’s decision and deliver what is necessary to operate and succeed in the Chinese market. And this is the first part of your communications plan.

Channel Communication

The second part of your communication plan addresses the external organisations that you need to help you deliver your products and services to your customers in China. Regardless of whether you run a B2B or a B2C business model, these organisations include such as your dealer/distributor network, your professional advisors and sales or promotional agencies.

The ultimate goal of your channels is to generate profit and to achieve this goal your channels will need your support. For instance, it is essential you provide your dealers/distributors with sufficient product knowledge and even training if necessary, so they will be able to deliver the best customer service. For agents who promote your brand, make sure you provide them with the most up-todate materials on a regular basis, e.g. your social media agency needs to be constantly given information in order to produce content for new posts. Remember, in order to get your channels on side and to create synergy throughout your operation, good communication is crucially important.

End-customer communication (if applicable)

One must keep in mind that what the end-customer needs should sit at the root of your marketing plan. To communicate with the end-customer efficiently, we suggest three steps:

Step 1: Research – identify the need and the spending behaviour

Like every culture, China has its unique cultural values and ideology. There are countless examples of the way this creates a divergence between Chinese consumer behaviour and needs and those we’re used to in the West. Therefore, carrying out comprehensive research to identify the spending behaviour and need of your target is a critical first step.

Step 2: Choosing suitable media

After you have conducted your research, you should be able to establish a certain level of local knowledge. At this stage you should have a good understanding of your target customers’ behaviour in terms of what they like, what they need, where they normally shop and how they make their purchases. With all the information you have gathered, now is the time to choose the most suitable media to reach your target, because each different target group has different media preferences. There are no general rules so it is essential you have access to the full marketing mix so you can target appropriately.

Step 3: Building localised content

When entering the Chinese market, breaking the language barrier is essential. This doesn’t only mean translation of the brand name, but also an appropriate translation. Due to the fact that Chinese is a language that allows different words to share the same pronunciation, when translating your brand name into Chinese, always choose the best word which alludes to your brand’s message. For example, the Chinese name of Swedish furniture brand IKEA is “Yi Jia (宜家)”, which means “good for the home”, while Coca Cola’s Chinese name is “Ke Kou Ke Le (可口可乐)”, which refers to “tasty and joyful”.

However, please remember to add some elements to which Chinese customers can relate. HSBC, the global banking group, achieved this quite simply with its TV commercials by stressing ‘localisation’ as the key message.

Finally, when communicating with end-customers, your content should always be consistent with channel communication – never let your endcustomers feel that you are a premium brand while telling your channels that you are a value brand.

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