A couple of decades ago, you could walk into any discount variety store and pick up something that looked like a brand name product, but at a quarter of the price. More often than not it would have the words ‘MADE IN CHINA’ printed on it. Just as likely would be the fact that it would break within a few weeks. As a child, I remember being disappointed to receive not an Optimus Prime Transformer, but a ‘Super Super Robot Truck Man’. Hence, China was labelled a nation of cut price copiers and I was left with a robot missing a head and two wheels.
Oh how things have changed! Since 1990, China’s economy has gone into overdrive with an average economic growth of over 10% each year. This rapid growth means that China is on target to overtake the USA in terms of GDP by 2018. Consequently, China is the hottest ticket in town. It’s a nation where disposable income has tripled in the last 8 years. Where they produce nearly 5 million more college graduates per year than the US can muster. Then, of course, there’s their online activity.
Government policies in China have led to highly restricted access to foreign social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The average person in downtown Beijing is very unlikely to be tweeting or poking someone. Instead, they have a raft of home grown options available. QZone is a social media site which is similar to Facebook, but has 100 million more users. WeChat is an innovative Chinese take on WhatsApp and, again, has 100 million more users than its US counterpart. Amazon and eBay are pretty big, right? China decided to design one shopping site – Taobao – which, you guessed it, was bigger than both combined.
What’s led to this massive growth in China’s technological achievements? Well, they realised a while back that competing with rival nations purely on price terms wasn’t enough. To fuel their economy and drive further growth, innovation would need to be embraced. Aggressive marketing, the poaching of Silicon Valley execs and heavy investment in education have resulted in China building a fine team of innovators. As a result, China is leaving behind the ‘cut price copiers’ tag and really starting to impress with their social media, mobile devices and telecommunications.
Being a relative newcomer to the technology party, plenty of established nations are desperate to get an invite. However, Eastern culture is very different to Western culture and this is where many fail. Trust and long-term relationships are highly prized in China. These beliefs are built upon face-to-face contact with Chinese companies. The most favored approach for building relationships is at conferences and events rather than phone or email. Conference centres are springing up all over China and, by attending events there, foreign companies are likely to emphasise their commitment.
Unfortunately, for the US and Europe, they haven’t been paying China enough attention as they should. Instead of identifying key trends and needs in the Chinese markets, they’ve been concentrating on aspects of their home markets. A London based executive may be able to prepare a lovingly crafted and insightful PowerPoint about what the English speaking world wants, but will this apply to the residents of Shanghai? I feel that the executives need to go back to the drawing board as regards China. Start by learning the local culture and practices, then move on to identifying the influential people in the industry and then formulate your move.
Currently, I feel that the Western world is slightly in awe of China’s achievements. They’re certainly staggering achievements, but not wholly exclusive. It’s a different market to one that marketeers are used to dealing with and this probably puts some off. However, if brands are willing to immerse themselves in this new culture and respect its practices, it could be hugely beneficial for both sides. And, if we’re really lucky, it might result in the production of some high quality Transformer action figures!