5 Things British Brands in China Can Learn From Shanghai’s ‘Best of British’ Exhibition

Last week saw over 150 British brands and several thousand Chinese visitors attend the Best of British exhibition —organised by Media Ten — to network, connect, learn and strengthen partnerships between China and the UK.

The timing was perfect, with Xi’s announcement at the 19th National Communist‎ Congress, taking place in Beijing, that China was continuing to focus on “opening up” for business across the world.

From age-old favorites, such as Rolls Royce and Dalmore Whiskey, to exquisite British brands new to China, Best of British offered Chinese visitors a discovery of leading brands from the United Kingdom, as well as new niche products and an array of interactive themed features.

The event was also backed by The British Consulate-General Shanghai, the Department for International Trade and the GREAT campaign.

Here are 5 things that British brands can learn from the event:

(1) China success is a reality for both big corporations and niche brands too

With the event sponsored by British Airways, also attending were Rolls Royce, Weetabix, Peppa Pig, Royal Mail, MINI and other global names already well ensconced in China. There was also huge interest from brands which have had success in the Middle East and Japan, while having yet to explore China.

This shows that there is still huge room in the marketplace for more — there are waves of niche brands ready to bring more variety and originality to the Chinese consumer.

(2) The British government is there to support, while Chinese media is keen to discover

The Department of International Trade (DIT), the GREAT campaign and the British Consulate-General gave their heavyweight backing to the show. The timing was perfect, after President Xi Jinping’s announcement of China’s continued opening to global business, and Britain strengthening partnerships with China, post-Brexit. It means that new-comers shouldn’t hold on to any British shyness in getting in touch with the DIT, official Departments and all sorts of authorities for assistance and guidance.

“Above all, Best of British was the perfect opportunity for DIT to support British companies to be immersed in the Chinese market and see for themselves the prevalence of WeChat, reliance on mobile devices and a cashless society driven by digital payments. The Best of British experience, including tailored business match-making, direct consumer feedback and a lecture series from Chinese retail experts has been invaluable in opening their eyes to the opportunities and challenges of this vast new export market” – Lexie Morris, Head of Retail & Consumer China, British Government’s Department for International Trade

From the China side, over 130 media attended the exhibition. This showed a clear eagerness to learn and feature British brands, creating a great opportunity for engagement and communication with media and influencers keen to show their knowledge of all things British.

(3) Luxury is in demand like never before – it’s about quality craftsmanship and a brand story with meaning

Luxury lifestyle is the connection between UK craft and Chinese tastes. Luxury was the theme that pervaded the entire event, with fashion, food, design, travel and innovation all carrying themes of the finer things in life. This is a key taste of the Chinese consumer to which British brands can deliver, with recognised heritage and craftsmanship in creating products and service of high-class quality.

With the expertise of big brands, government departments and media interaction, Best of British served as the ideal moment for brands considering their China entry. Potential new-comers were able to see first-hand the possibilities and necessary steps for China entry, making the event a perfect opportunity for a kind of biz-dev mise en place, where new brands could see what they need to prepare before turning the heat on their China ventures.

(4) E-commerce (and M-commerce) is the keystone of your success in China

Alibaba, Royal Mail (with their Tmall connection) and the like attended the show in order to put the first piece of the puzzle in place – how a new-comer can get their product out there to test the waters; how to research, discover and target.

Successful distribution is a key first step and one that is understandably daunting. The seemingly basic process of setting up your digital footprint on Tmall, JD.com and the like is all about trust: finding the right staff/person or agency/company who will take care with taking your product to the e-marketplace.

(5) Brand Britain is diverse and inter-connected for mutual success

Business inter-connectivity was represented as a clear asset for having a show about everything British. Catwalk shows representing London’s fashion power, heritage F&B from salmon and tea to whisky and gin, entertainment icons such as Madame Tussaud’s and Peppa Pig, classical musical performances and aristocracy in attendance all shone a light on Britain’s charm.

This personality of innovation-meets-heritage ideally captures the Chinese audience for another main business; travel. Not only are Chinese consumers interested in buying British products but their wanderlust is stimulated to see the country for themselves.


The Luxury Conversation Takeaways

  • Recognise British heritage and craftsmanship – but don’t rely on history as a sole hallmark.
  • China’s luxury consumers are at the forefront of technology and expect to be impressed with WeChat, live streaming, VR and AR – while digital bells and whistles shouldn’t be leant upon in lieu of a clear branding narrative
  • Target your demographic – who are they, how, when and where do they shop, what local celebrities do they identify with
  • Ensure your KOL / influencer plan is bulletproof – finesse and craft a relationship rather than jumping the gun in eagerness for numbers and views only
  • Get your shop in order – it’s not the clever move to give you an edge, but planting your digital footprint over WeChat, Weibo, Tmall, JD.com, AliPay and relevant apps is a must.