At Brand Summit China, Campaign Asia-Pacific partnered with Williams Lea Tag to explore China’s current market climate. An exclusive roundtable event brought in thought leaders from the financial services, auto, hospitality, retail sectors and more to talk shop.
Narrowing the focus for local markets
For any international brand, localisation has to be on the mind when piecing together a marketing formula in China. With a dozen Chinese cities with a GDP of more than a trillion RMB (US$146.5 billion), approaching the country as a homogenous market is simply not viable.
Liyan Ye, senior marketing director at Valio, spoke on the subject, harkening back to her work with Pizza Hut, “For the past twenty years we’d been promoting a foreign brand image in China, which was very appealing to Chinese consumers, and people liked to pay a premium for something like that. But a change has happened in just the last three or four years with the localisation of branding and communications in China. So, instead of promoting a foreign food chain company, all our marketing ideas centred on what the Chinese consumers would like.”
It’s important to keep in mind that, although some brands have been stalwarts in the Chinese market for decades, the country’s economic boom has also welcomed in a wave of exciting new players, and according to Mika Kanai, general manager, media and digital marketing at Shiseido China, there is still much work to be done in the vein of local outreach, “Communications really need localisation, because China is very unique. Even the way we communicate product benefits to consumers—it’s a totally different market.” She went on, “Many international brands are struggling at the regional level. There’s a lack in structure in what needs to be consistent across the global level, and what layers need to be localised.”
Yang Yang, vice president at Bausch + Lomb summed up the localisation matter nicely, “I don’t think it’s an option, it’s a must.”
New routes for engagement
Chinese consumers are also using new social channels, which are much more diverse and fast-changing than those propagating throughout the rest of the world. Brands looking to connect should take heed.
Ruben Casas, senior director of business development APAC at Melia Hotels has found a channel rife with potential for advertisers, “Using gaming platforms is becoming very popular. This is how you connect. Why don’t we target more using these kinds of devices? We can use them to push advertising, communications, content related to our products.”
On other fronts, Cynthia Sun, social media director at BYD Automobile referred to Tik Tok as her go-to platform for connecting with younger demographics. However, as popular as the music video and social network has been as of late, it does present difficulties, “it’s a great way to improve brand awareness, but sometimes it’s not directly related to your brand,” said Sun.
With so many new, unique platforms, the issue of finding real ROI also poses an obstacle. Marketing activities have to garner business results—you’d be hard-pressed to find those who wouldn’t agree, but it’s easy to lose the plot with so much going on digitally.
Yang explained, “A lot of marketers might say, ‘this channel fantastic and so creative’, and of course you wouldn’t expect everything to generate results right away, but there has to be a solid connection over time. Whatever you spend in marketing, is it going to help you grow your business and consumer base?” She went on, “At the same time, your marketing budget has to be flexible. It has to be fluid, and you have to shift it accordingly if something changes.”
Choosing the right agency is key in facing the aforementioned issues head-on and Rafael Diaz, head of digital, and Xulu Wang, managing director, Greater China at Williams Lea Tag brought in the agency perspective. “You have to be able to measure the success of your partnership,” said Wang, “and I think at the end of the day people are number one. That’s what makes an agency tick, and why brands stick with them.”