GLOBAL: China no longer produces mere goods; in recent years, the world’s most populous country has shifted away from the image of a cheap producer at scale, toward becoming the innovative home of trusted companies. Here, WARC looks at how Chinese brands have made this journey.

Writing in a new Best Practice article for WARC, Doreen Wang, Global Head of BrandZ at Kantar Millward Brown, argues that for Chinese firms, the “secret weapon” is branding, helping successful companies not only to flourish at home but also abroad.

Kantar Millward Brown measure branding in terms of a brand’s power, with stronger brands becoming more meaningful, different, and salient. Outside of tech brands, in where China is particularly strong, Wang notes the fast-fashion brand SheIn, which has built meaningful difference around “Faster, Better Fashion” using western design and high-quality Chinese manufacturing.

Meanwhile, Wang argues that Chinese brands could find a broader purpose useful as a rallying cry both internally and externally. “This is the case with Huawei”, she writes, “where ownership is shared with the firm’s 180,000 employees.”

Ultimately, the “brand needs to empower the whole business not just the marketing departments.”

Other recommendations delve further into the business processes which will allow a Chinese brand to grow internationally. Working fast, for instance, “means continually reviewing business objectives based on a clear goal for where you want to be in 10 years’ time. If there are great opportunities, go for them. If there are risks, mitigate or avoid them. Always stay on track”, Wang writes.

Some fruitful opportunities come in the form of brand partnerships, which give the brand the chance to challenge expectations. One recent example involved the online retailer teaming up with the US giant Walmart (which has 400 stores in China) to merge data and allow JD to fulfil Walmart inventory.

These new opportunities chime with a broadening of perspectives within business toward openness, notably among China’s Top 50 Global Brand Builders, in which the cultural shift is a greater willingness to learn from and recruit those with rich, specialist experience.

At the same time, China’s innovation credentials come at a time when many other countries from around the world boast these capabilities. In a more and more innovative business environment, Wang says, “the more necessary it is to look at those innovations through the prism of the difference they make to people’s lives and well-being.”

Challenges of limited awareness and low trust perception (especially among older consumers) continue, however, and brands must be alive to the need to address them. Wang criticises an attitude that saw many brands “test the water” internationally and spurred a “vicious cycle of low investment leading to low commitment”.

Finally, they must remember, “Brand building takes time and it takes a significant change in the consumer’s mindset. Chinese brands are working hard to achieve this by providing people around the world with reasons to believe in their brands.”

Sourced from WARC, CNBC