Many western brands are struggling to succeed in China because they lack a deep enough understanding of a constantly changing market – a recent survey, for example, found that 40% of US marketers apply the same marketing plans in China as in the US, despite the huge differences in platforms, culture and demographics.

That same survey, of 351 US marketers by marketing consultancy LEWIS as part of its Bay to Bay series, revealed that 69% of respondents were using Bing as part of their search marketing efforts – more than were using Baidu (59%) – while almost a third (30%) were unfamiliar with Chinese social media and e-commerce platforms.

The findings echo a 2018 study in which University of London academic Feng Li highlighted the reasons why western digital brands have failed in China. These included operating the wrong business model, an inability to respond to fierce local competition and “virtually everything about relationships with partners and local government”, in the words of Andrew Atkinson, senior marketing manager at Shanghai-based agency China Skinny.

Speaking at a China-Britain Business Council event before Christmas, Atkinson advised that “investing in your brand is the only way to ensure longevity” in China.

And that’s especially true today, given how consumer sentiment has shifted over the past couple of years in China, partly as a result of the ongoing trade dispute with the US.

“There is this immense pride in everything Chinese,” he said. “Tmall recently said that 75% of brands incorporated Made in China on their product listings in 2019 as opposed to less than half in 2017.

“When you’re seeing that consumer sentiment change, as a Western brand you have to do a lot more now than you would have had to do a few years ago to really win consumers.”

Western brands still command associations with quality and craftsmanship, but that’s no longer enough by itself. “It’s an incredible foundation to start, but then it’s about communicating that in very localised ways,” said Atkinson – and here there are lessons to be learned from what successful domestic brands are doing. (For more, read WARC’s report: Nine things to learn from Chinese brands.)

Sourced from LEWIS, WARC