From the Scottish Borders to China

15 December 2015

VictoriaWriter Profile:

Victoria Richardson is a Marketing Executive at China Skinny. She is from a small town in the Scottish Borders and studied at the University of St Andrews and Fudan University in Shanghai. Victoria is enjoying her role supporting international businesses in achieving their goals in China, and is particularly keen to develop Scottish-Sino relations.

Marketing in China: The Skinny

The world's second largest economy, a GDP of £6.8 trillion, a population of over 1.3 billion; there is no shortage of buzz surrounding China and the wealth of opportunities it offers. However international businesses interested in entering the Middle Kingdom - Zhōngguó 中国 - are often overwhelmed by the unique demands of China's consumer market before they even get started. Whilst China is undoubtedly a challenging place to do business, it is also a market brimming with potential for companies who position themselves smartly. To help you unleash this potential, China Skinny has drawn upon our expertise in assisting foreign brands to succeed in the Chinese market to present this lowdown of 3 hot tips to help you thrive in China. Go on! - or as the Chinese would say - jiāyoú 加油!

1)     Localise, Localise, Localise

One of the greatest misperceptions of China is that the country is one great homogenous block. In reality, it is more helpful to think of China as similar to Europe - made up of many distinct cultures, ethnicities and identities. China's size is well-documented - for example the Mainland boasts 90 cities with a greater population than Scotland - and the impact of this vast scale on shaping China's consumer culture is not to be underestimated.

Localisation is of pivotal importance for international brands interested in the Chinese market. In essence, localisation can be defined as brands taking the time to understand Chinese consumers, what makes them tick and what services and products they aspire to. Examples of product localisation range from Kraft's peach and grape flavour Oreo cookies, to Pond's anti-pollution 'Pure White Cleansing' skincare products to KFC's top-seller, Congee. Whilst these are good examples of wholesale localisation, tastes and climates can vary in different parts of China, so it can be beneficial to localise food flavours and skincare types by climate for the cities and regions you're targeting.

Putting aside time and resources to gather this intelligence is an investment, however it is one that pays for itself. Companies which skip localisation and enter the Chinese market based on outmoded preconceptions, or with the strategy of projecting Western norms onto Chinese consumers are bound for failure. International companies working in China would also do well to think 'Global' rather than Western when it comes to understanding the identity that their increasingly sophisticated Chinese target market aspires to. 

2)     Get to Grips with the Calendar

2-SBCAs one of the world's most ancient and complex civilisations, China's festivals and cultural traditions are not only amongst the world's most fascinating, but also play a pivotal role in shaping Chinese consumer culture. The Chinese calendar is punctuated by "mass" national holidays - periods during which hundreds of millions of Chinese purchase products and gifts, make the journey home or travel abroad. Take Chinese New Year, the pivot on which the year turns. In 2014 Chinese consumers spent a massive £66 billion only on shopping and eating out during this one-week festival. The New Year also sees an explosion of travel - with an average of 3.6 billion passenger trips undertaken over the festival.

International brands demonstrating sensitivity and attention to detail when it comes to China's unique seasonal traditions place themselves in prime position to stand out in a market bustling with international brands. One great example of this can be found in Starbucks' Chinese New Year calendar campaign - with this promotion Starbucks' created a 30-day calendar charting typical milestones experienced by Chinese consumers over the New Year, linking these to special in-store offers. The campaign was a huge success, generating more than 100 million impressions on Weibo, and contributed significantly to deepening Starbucks' bond with Chinese shoppers. 

In typically Chinese style - with an implosion of old and new- the annual event in China with some of the biggest commercial clout is all of 22 years old. Single's Day, an annual one day ecommerce sale celebrating singletons racked up an astonishing £9 billion in revenues this November 11th. Leading us nicely to our next point...

3)      Ecommerce is King

3-SBCWhen it comes to ecommerce forget everything you know. As the world's largest and most dynamic ecommerce market, China is doing it bigger and better. When shopping online, China's consumers face a dizzying plethora of options, from Taobao - Alibaba's treasure trove, and spin-off site Tmall with its focus on authentic brands, to JD's trusted direct delivery platform, or niche sites such as Yihaodian which specialises in food and beverage. Ecommerce in China only looks set to keep growing, with a market value predicted to top £660 billion by 2018: eclipsing the combined ecommerce markets of the U.S., the U.K., Japan, Germany, and France.

China's dynamic ecommerce market is constantly undergoing flux, with new developments and ideas always popping up. Take the rise of Haitao 海淘 cross border ecommerce platforms - such as Tmall Global - which connect Chinese consumers with ever in-demand international and imported products. The power of ecommerce lies not only in connecting Chinese consumers with the world, but also in empowering China's progressively influential rural consumers, who live in areas with limited traditional retail infrastructure.

China Skinny is one of the best known and fastest growing marketing and research agencies in China, providing value insights and implementation for foreign businesses looking to enter the Chinese market.  China Skinny also publishes the most-read newsletter about marketing to Chinese consumers.

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