Resonance China's Jerry Clode gives his 10 simple rules for how to succeed in this notoriously difficult market to crack.
I: Drop assumptions
A fundamental, but so often forgotten one. Assumptions that underline your brand at home will simply not hold in China. Often, Chinese consumers will not know your brand, and may not even know or understand the category in the same way. Drop these assumptions, and open your brand up to the full opportunities offered by China.
II: Know thy enemy
To say China is competitive is a serious understatement—you must face fellow internationals but also increasingly savvy locals. To get your brand off to the right start, you must place competitive intelligence at the heart of your strategy and planning. Knowing their game will help you sharpen yours.
III: Your name, your game
Getting your Chinese name right is crucial. Without it, Chinese consumers are not able to talk, share or pronounce your brand—an indefinite circuit breaker. Rather than an afterthought, your name must create an intuitive bridge that links your brand to the needs of your Chinese consumers.
IV: Few > many
So often success in China is defined as getting a small percentage of a ridiculously large country. But the reality is that you need to focus on a specific target audience to ensure success. This way, you can create a loyal community of consumers, who will ultimately advocate and amplify your brand for you.
V: You’re not special
Being foreign is no longer special. Most international brands are still plugging the message that ‘foreign is better’, and Chinese consumers have naturally grown tired of this. The preference for international brands over locals is increasingly the exception rather than the rule. So don’t cling to your foreign-ness, you need to tell your own brand story to stand out.
VI: Develop reasons to be
The idea of categories is still developing in China—remember capitalism has only been back for one-and-a-half generations. Therefore, the potential role of your brand in the lives in local consumers is still under negotiation. To help them with this process, make sure you communicate a locally relevant category role.
VII: China will not change
Five thousand years of continuous history can be habit-forming. Do not approach China with the hope of changing it. Instead, engage local culture as a logical starting point to communicate the benefits and experience of your brand. This is cultural translation to fit China, where your brand story is rejuvenated by the local consumer reality.
VIII: Don’t condescend
Education is often essential to introducing an international brand to Chinese consumers. However, it is important to be an enabler, rather than a bossy schoolteacher. Remember, if you overload your Chinese consumers with a one-way onslaught of communication, you will quickly become a museum piece.
IX: Digitise or die
Quite literally China has gone digital, head-down in their phones all day. If you are not communicating your brand on digital platforms you are simply not part of the conversation. Digital can never be an afterthought in China – it is instead the primary touch point with consumers in this market. If your brand voice is not digital, it is simply not being heard.
X: Beware of first-tier bias
Often Shanghai and Beijing are seen as ‘stepping stones’ to a wider China strategy. But the fact that everyone is assuming the same thing means first-tier cities are hyper competitive. It is important to remember that most second-tier cities are bigger than many European countries—if you are successful in Chengdu, Chongqing or Wuhan, you are downright successful in China.
Jerry Clode is head of digital and social insight, Resonance China