Brands have long been aware that what sells here in the West doesn’t necessarily sell that well in the East and nowhere is this more noticeable than in China.
Often seen as cut off from the rest of the world, the country represents one of the biggest retail markets for brands and succeeding in it is something akin to the Holy Grail.
According to Start Up China: “A 63% majority of international companies operating in China acknowledged that they needed to alter their product specifically for the Chinese market. In most cases, this does not mean completely creating a new product or service, but rather making small adjustments to better suit Chinese culture and preferences.”
A big difference between the West and countries like China is the way things are paid for, something which eBay were slow to take up.
- Whereas eBay wanted people to pay by credit card, Taobao realised that many Chinese consumers didn’t have them or were worried about paying online. They introduced a way for a buyer to pay for a product in cash when it was delivered to the door.
- EBay required sellers to pay for listing a product whereas Taobao decided to make its money from advertising revenue.
- EBay didn’t particularly like that customer and seller would bargain on the price privately and so didn’t add a chat feature. Taobao accepted that the Chinese way is to haggle over the price and was happy to include a chat function that allowed this to happen.
Localisation is the key
According to Forbes, marketers make the mistake of treating China as one big market: “Treating China as a single market is a flawed concept – it’s 29 different provinces with their own peoples, dialects, customs and brand preferences. Procter & Gamble was one of the few U.S. marketers to realize this early on, investing extensively in proprietary research across multiple cities.”
Not only that, but social marketers have to deal with a whole swathe of localised digital platforms such as Weibo and WeChat. China’s social media landscape is vast and complex and choosing the right platform is integral to brand success particularly considering that there are around 500 million netizens and the number is growing.
Beware of bad translation
Many brands, both big and small have fallen foul of poor or ill advised translations of their products and key messages. When Pepsi first ventured into the market its slogan “Pepsi brings you back to life” translated to the Chinese public as “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave” and KFC entered with “Finger licking good” which got translated as “eat your fingers off”.
In truth, many large brands have failed to do the research needed into the culture and customs of their target audience when moving their product into another country.
According to Mike Fromowitz of Ethnicity Multicultural Marketing and Advertising Inc.: “Many international companies have had problems with expanding their brands worldwide because they have failed to put in the research and effort necessary to understand the culture. This has led to several failed brands, to offended consumers, and to the loss of millions of dollars that comes with having to start all over again.”