How Can British Brands Connect with China’s Luxury Consumer?

Five years ago in China, if you asked a consumer to name a luxury British brand they would have mentioned the likes of Burberry, Rolls Royce and Jaguar. Then, British brands equaled quality, heritage, and craftsmanship – but rarely implied innovation. How times have changed.

Today, ask luxury consumers that same question and the answers are surprisingly different, and refreshing. Jo Malone, Anya Hindmarch, Victoria Beckham, Matchesfashion.com, Strathberry, Charlotte Olympia, Sophia Webster, Belstaff – the list goes on! Today’s British luxury is young, cool, innovative and niche.

Why are niche brands attracting such attention now? Increasing demand and interest in such brands is driven by the rise in sophistication of a younger Chinese consumer, coupled with the fact that they are well travelled and well researched. They gather information through apps like Weibo and Wechat, two of China’s social media platforms, as their key tools. These brands are not oversubscribed, and offer a status of “in the know” to the buyer. Chinese consumers are helping to propel smaller local UK brands into much larger international business platforms.

Offering a platform for these brands in China, the “Best of British Exhibition”, a brand new show celebrating the best of British lifestyle comes to Shanghai in October. It will spotlight the very best of British consumables, including food, drink, fashion, design, culture, education and innovation. The Best of British Show is backed by the GREAT Britain campaign, Department for International Trade and British Consulate General Shanghai.

The UK is in a unique position, enjoying a growing number of visitors from China, as well as an important number of Chinese students domestically who enjoy these brands in the UK before returning to China. This affords a great opportunity for brands to connect and engage with consumers both in the UK and in China. So what should brands do to ensure that they are top of mind with these luxury consumers? We put that question to the following industry experts:

INVEST IN LOCAL MARKETING

“The unique blend of iconic British brands, British heritage and culture and customer experience continues to have huge allure for the Chinese customer – everyone knows about the famous ‘three B’s’ of Buckingham Palace, Blenheim and Bicester’ – and Chinese visitors made up over a third of non-EU visitors this year. However, the key to success with this highly sophisticated consumer group lies in reaching potential customers before they travel; working with local influencers and investing in local marketing to make sure you’re apart of their thinking well before they travel.”

HELEN BROCKLEBANK, CEO, WALPOLE

Walpole is the only UK membership organization for British luxury brands, providing collective voice for its members.

USE THE RIGHT CHANNELS

“Chinese payment systems (WechatPay/Alipay) are an important aspect of providing convenience. Such payments, both instore and online, provide brands with key data such as average expenditure and product preferences. This is a great testing ground before venturing into the Chinese market itself. Ensure that you can ship directly to the Chinese consumer in China, even via an English language website, in order to enjoy cross-border ecommerce tax rates and significantly less regulatory burden. Developing solid social media channels such as Wechat and Weibo closes this loop, giving brands that all important consumer base in China before they’ve even set foot in the market.”

LEXIE MORRIS, HEAD OF RETAIL & CONSUMER GOODS, BRITISH GOVERNMENT’S DEPARTMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL TRADE, CHINA

The Department For International Trade is responsible for promoting British trade across the world.

GIVE BRANDS THE RIGHT PLATFORM

“There is huge opportunity right now to forge relationships with increasingly sophisticated and internationalized Chinese consumers, all looking for niche and unique brands. For many brands, setting up shop in China is not an option. This is why we are launching the Best of British, specifically to give those brands a platform and put them in front of the right audience.”

MIKE DYNAN, MANAGING DIRECTOR, MEDIA 10 (ORGANIZER OF BEST OF BRITISH EXHIBITION)

CONNECT BEFORE THEY LEAVE

“When it comes to brands, Chinese travelers are amongst the most knowledgeable and well researched. 80% of what they purchase overseas is already decided before they leave China. It’s crucial to connect before they leave, and make sure you are top of mind. Explore the right mix of communication channels through media and social media, with localized and relevant content. Be smart when using influencers in China, and cast the net wide to tap into different spheres of influence. Online word of mouth is key to reaching these consumers.”

CHLOE REUTER, CEO AND FOUNDER, REUTER COMMUNICATIONS

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