International brands hoping to break into the Chinese market cannot rely on their global reputation but have to adapt, building an understanding of the local culture and digital ecosystem if they are to have any chance of success, an industry figure says.

In a WARC Best Practice paper, How international brands can succeed in China, Doreen Wang of BrandZ says that as Chinese consumers become more prosperous and sophisticated, they are less dazzled by global names.

BrandZ’s own research suggests that that while global brands are considered more distinctive, they have failed to keep pace with local expectations. “They are not gathering consumer insight and turning it into new products and services fast enough,” says Wang.

A crucial difference international brands need to be aware of is that aspirations often differ from those in the West, with consumers focused not on possessions but on brands’ ability to enhance their wellbeing and provide products that make life easier and more pleasant.

As in any market, brands that want to compete for share of life in China must find ways to connect with and create experiences for consumers at the right time, using the most appropriate channels and media.

China, however, has created a different digital ecosystem where Baidu, Weibo and WeChat all play a part in creating a new conversation between consumers and brands, while Alibaba is the major e-commerce player; Google, Facebook and Amazon are not part of the picture.

China’s online retail ecosystem is in many ways now more advanced than in other markets: “Businesses need to look to the key local players in order to learn and apply new techniques and strategies that will engage consumers,” says Wang.

Many still undervalue the importance of mobile, she added. Ninety percent of Chinese internet users access the web using a mobile device, so it is vital to have a strong mobile presence that represents the brand in all its aspects: advertising and marketing, social communication, shopping, purchasing and payment.

Wang also advises long-term commitment, building trust and fostering links with the local distribution system; “China still operates on connections, or guanxi,” she notes.

To that end, employing local talent can indicate not only seriousness of intent but help access a ready-made network of contacts.

Sourced from WARC