The Key to Taking Chinese Brands International
Speaking at the launch of the Brand Z Top 100 Most Valuable Chinese Brands 2018, Ogilvy China CEO Chris Reitermann commented on the rapid growth of digital companies in the domestic market, and offered advice to brands in China who are keen to go global.
Reitermann believes that the way people think about brands is changing. When he worked with Chinese consumer brands just a few years ago, a major issue was perception of quality. That’s much less of a problem for consumers now; through digital, the market has become much more transparent, and people feel more informed and empowered about what they are buying. This, in turn, has driven the growth of local competitors; massive shifts in consumption and retail have contributed to the rapid rise of logistics and delivery brands which revolve around ecommerce as a core.
“A lot of these brands are very successful not because of advertising in the traditional sense, but because they are service and utility brands who, through technology, have found a way to interact with consumers every day,” says Reitermann. “You build brands by being in people’s lives and connecting with them every single day. That starts from an understanding of what consumers want, or by creating a need.” He cites WeChat as a prime example of creating a need by offering customers something they didn’t even know they wanted.
“A lot of these brands are technology brands, and so by the very nature of their business they are innovators,” he continues, adding that simply working on your product is insufficient. “A lot of brands come to us as innovators in their categories, who want to build something that’s longer lasting and connects with the consumer in a stronger way than just having the best camera or processor.”
David Roth, CEO of The Store WPP, EMEA & Asia, agrees. “You don’t have a brand unless it’s in the mind of the customer,” he says, highlighting two key elements to building a brand: “First, differentiate it from the competition. That differentiation could take the form of product, distribution, innovation. But just being different isn’t enough any more; you also have to be meaningful to people, you have to occupy an important part of their life. If you were to take that brand away, would the consumer really miss it?”
Now more than ever, companies are having conversations around exactly what it means to be a brand. And Chinese companies are thinking more strategically about who they want to be on the global stage. Reitermann’s best advice for going international: understand that this is a long term undertaking.
“I still feel many Chinese companies misunderstand the difference between selling and building a brand abroad,” he says. “It’s easy to sell a product on a value proposition, but to build a brand, frankly, takes a bloody long time! It takes work, and it takes consistency. The pace is different; you’re not in your home market, and the culture, politics and environment are all different. A well-considered approach is needed if you’re interested in building a global brand. It doesn’t happen overnight.”