Recently, the BBC published an article titled “How to Win in China” where the global brand research company, Millward Brown, was tasked with finding the 20 most powerful foreign brands in China. The list is American heavy with many brands you would expect: KFC, Coca-Cola and Apple to name a few.
Perhaps the most exciting finding is the maturing tastes of Chinese consumers. They are beginning to factor in quality and experience in addition to the price tag. Basically, higher living standards and falling trust in local brands is increasing demand for more expensive, higher quality foreign goods.
Chinese consumers once valued low prices above any other factor when making choices. But a mix of higher living standards and falling trust in local brands means people are looking to international brands more
For institutions, this is very good news because it indicates the China study abroad engine is likely not slowing down. Just last year, 399,600 Chinese students decided to study abroad with roughly 200,000 of those deciding to pursue studies in the US. As living standards increase and tastes mature across China, there are more and more consumers considering study abroad and are ready to hear your institution’s message.
So how do you craft and deliver your message?
Luckily for us, the companies interviewed shared five pearls of branding wisdom for success in the China market.
1. Get in early
There is no time like the present. Everyone’s been to Beijing and Shanghai, but have you taken a trip to Lanzhou or Changchun lately? China has roughly 170 cities with populations over one million and their citizens are increasingly wealthy, cosmopolitan and ready to learn about your brand. Where else in the world do you have an opportunity like this? Now is your chance!
2. City Strategy
Each city in China is different. Beijingers have different – very different – tastes and preferences compared to Shanghai. Families from Kunming see the world differently compared to those from Changsha. Prospective students in Wuhan have vastly different tastes and preferences compared to those in Changchun. What? You’ve never heard of those cities? Get a map because there’s some fertile recruiting ground for you. Just remember to adjust your message and position yourself according to the local market. You don’t know how to position yourself? See step 3.
3. Build your team
KFC hired Taiwanese managers to run their mainland operation because they understood local markets comprise the overall Chinese market. For schools, this means having Chinese staff or interns on board who can help make sense of different Chinese markets. You don’t necessarily want them recruiting students for you, but they should help you plan and implement your branding strategy.
4. Understand your market
Armani painted its store door red when it entered China, then later (rightly) decided to keep its international branding strategy exactly the same in China. It turned out when Chinese buy Armani, they want to associate
with international culture, not Chinese. When Chinese families consider institutions abroad, they want the same thing – an international experience. So, if your viewbooks for China are heavy on photos of Asian students, it might be time to rethink what your Chinese families really want when it comes to studying in your country and at your institution.
This was not mentioned in the article, but is a trait I would like to add. The best advice I ever received about China is “Treat China like a marathon, not a sprint.” Don’t expect all of China to recognize your brand after the first campaign. Successful work in China happens with a well thought strategy and repeated effort.