Rahul Sachitanand
Jan 20, 2020

Cocky American marketers struggle to look beyond data in China

Failure to consider cultural and emotional factors limits their ability to crack world's second-largest economy.

Cocky American marketers struggle to look beyond data in China

Even though China remains a key market, over-confident American marketers risk under-performing in the world's second largest economy because they lean on market data and don't use cultural and emotional factors to understand drivers of their competition and to connect with their Chinese audiences, according a recent survey by marketing consultancy Lewis. This survey of 351 respondents shows that by working with experts in China, these marketers can gain greater insight into local practices. 

“China is a giant and constantly changing market," said Emma Jenkins, senior vice president, APAC, Lewis. "Whilst it offers great potential for overseas brands, it also demands a deep understanding of local habits and channels in order to successfully reach audiences," 

Marketers face this conundrum, even as nearly two-third of respondents say they have increased their investment in the challenging Chinese market. 

Despite the promise, a host of challenges confront them in China, these marketers say, with political relations, financal restrictions and regulation within China, hobbling their plans. 

Whereas 71% of companies are currently marketing in China or have plans to in the foreseeable future, 19% of respondents claim they lack sufficient understanding of marketing practices in China. Even amongst those companies that are currently focusing their marketing efforts in this country, China presents many challenges and uncertainties. For example, over three-fourths of respondents agree that a lack of transparency in China’s marketing and communications industry is a key barrier to their marketing efforts, while more than 60% of respondents say marketing in China is difficult.

According to the survey, 41% of respondents said they can apply the same marketing plans and approach in China as they would in the US. That is simply not the case and evidently these marketers don’t understand the nuances of the Chinese markets as well as they think.

For instance, unlike US audiences, Chinese consumers are more homogenised and collective. Personalised, individualistic campaigns that work in the US won’t necessarily catch on in China. Interpersonal relationships (Guanxi) play a huge role in all business growth, particularly in China. Relationships in China are primarily rooted in reciprocity.

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