November & December theme:
“Choose One Thing”
Posted in :  Brain Waves

Often, when building a go-to-market strategy in other countries, companies adopt a “do as the Romans do” approach. Through our work with our B2B clients in Asia, specifically China, however, we have discovered that being an import is more powerful than looking homegrown.

For China, the economic, political and social climates revolve around trust, and more specifically – a lack of it. China has mastered the craft of knock-off brands and, because most large-scale organizations are government controlled, citizens are distrustful of Chinese companies and the marketing used to reach them.

On the contrary, foreign brands build more trust because they’re, well, foreign. Successful brands have achieved the balance of assimilating into the culture while retaining their authentic value proposition. Companies run the risk of losing credibility when the uniqueness and history of what they offer is traded in to look or act more like a Chinese company.

Icon from "A Social Media Revolution: China's Answer to Social Networking" infographic.

Because of the trust factor, social media is huge in China. Consumers rely on peers to help make decisions. Understanding the different platforms such as Tianji (their version of LinkedIn) and Sina Weibo (popular micro-blogging site), and how users engage online is critical, as is the technology environment in general. China has the highest Internet population in the world but an incredibly slow Internet connection speed (China has an average speed of 695 kbps, while the U.S. hovers around 4,684 kbps). For some amazing stats on social media and the environment of mistrust in China, see “A Social Media Revolution: China’s Answer to Social Networking” infographic created by HighTable.

Understanding the social media environment in China, and marketing in general, is important but its one piece of your overall strategy. Also take into consideration the following:

  • Choose messaging wisely. If you are known in the U.S., but not recognized in Asia, telling the same story on both continents might not work. Deciding what to emphasize in your messaging will be based on familiarity of the market with your company and what parts of your story will resonate the most. Uncovering market and competitive research is key, as is aligning that external data with the most effective marketing messaging and presentation.
  • Show that you are global. Chinese citizens and organizations trust global brands. You need to show that you have customers from all over the world and prove that, historically, you are a successful business to work with. This is especially true if you offer a product that doesn’t yet exist in China.
  • Pay attention to details. The quality of execution in your marketing materials and tactics is critical to building credibility. If the way you present your brand looks low quality, your brand will be perceived as such. The details matter in your execution — from the quality of paper you choose for a brochure to the placement of content and links on your website.
  • Know the climate. The challenge of mistrust is just the beginning of understanding all of the cultural, economic and political nuances that you will need to work with. We mentioned a few considerations here — i.e., slow Internet speed, high volume of users, etc. — but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Do your homework, visit China and talk with as many confidantes as you can about how they’ve been successful in their marketing efforts.
  • Work with regional experts. To build an effective marketing plan, leverage local experts. Invest in a ground floor team to help your U.S. team understand what really works when you put it into play. As always, a plan for measuring your activities should be discussed upfront.

Obviously, the decisions you make tactically will be tailored to your particular brand and marketing strategy. But, the seemingly simple idea of staying true to who you are cannot be underestimated. In China, it’s what’s true to you that is most desirable and powerful for others.

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Posted by: Suzi Craig
Email the author: suzi@fathom.net