Not surprisingly, the US topped the list, followed by France, Germany and Italy. Japan and South Korea also made the top 10. The research ranked countries across six categories: food and beverage; personal care and beauty; automotive; electronic goods; fashion; and luxury. The study, which included 1,050 consumers from the US, France, Brazil, India, China, Japan and Australia, looked into purchasing power and perspective to understand how origin and brands influence preferences and ultimately choices.
According to Sarah Reiter, FutureBrand’s president, Asia-Pacific, country of origin is now a strong preference driver, more important than price and availability. “Where a product or service or brand comes from is foremost in consumers’ minds," she said.
Origin makes up five layers: where a product is designed, where it’s sourced, where it’s assembled, the region it’s sourced and finally where the company is incorporated. Consumers can discern those layers now, and businesses need to harness that information, Reiter said.
“This is good news for China businesses and brands, which are shrugging off negative stereotypes—cheap, low-skill, low-tech. China is now shifting towards being associated with modern, sophisticated, high-tech.”
China performed most strongly in retail, automobile, technology and electronics. Some of the companies responsible for the changing perception are technology companies like Alibaba, Xiaomi and Lenovo. Carmaker Geely and food manufacturer Shuanghui (now WH Holdings) are also faring well, according to the research. Companies like Lenovo and Geely have seen improved brand perception after major strategic acquisitions. Xiaomi, the maker of affordable smartphones, is a good example of a homegrown business that represents the new generation of Chinese brands.
Conversely, China performed poorly as a country brand, suffering weak perceptions across dimensions like value system, quality of life and tourism.
Reiter said this research is important as brand owners have an opportunity to differentiate themselves. The challenge for big brands is two-fold, she said. Do not rely on scale alone; authenticity is key, and brand owners need to showcase the emotional qualities of their brands. Drawing comparisons with marquee brands from France and Italy, she said that companies need to slowly but surely build the character and essence of China.
The second big challenge is around building an ecosystem. “Real branding is about creating an ecosystem that is conceptual , emotive, ethereal and experiential,” Reiter said.