Living in Shanghai, you’ll overhear or have conversations about ‘an idea’ to start a new business and attract China’s wealthy demographic. There are so many of them that you just need a small portion to be successful, right? While for many, these ideas are as immobile as the traffic on the Yan’an road tunnel, a few shine through.
Guillaume Rué de Bernadac started with an idea to teach etiquette in China. Years later, just some of the luxury brands his Academie works with are Cartier, Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Givenchy, Ritz-Carlton, Shangri-La, St. Regis, The Temple House, Christofle, Baccarat, L’Oréal, Roger & Gallet, and Maserati.
We met with Guillaume to learn from his success in branding, marketing and understanding cultural nuances across China. (photo credit: Mario Machado)
You built a successful business model from scratch – how were you confident that this would work? How did you identify the desire in the demographic?
It came first from an intuition. My family background was related – my relatives previously lived in Morocco, teaching etiquette and manners at the Royal court. It resonated with me — when a population becomes wealthy, they look to distinguish themselves, to become a better version of themselves. It has been true in many countries over history, it is true in China today. Of course, intuition is not everything, and so I experimented with this business-model for several months.
In my opinion, one of the key aspects for successful growth in the luxury industry is consistency. Luxury sells through the image, desire, dream, and it’s not something you build overnight. It takes time and constant effort. Unlike new technologies where cycles may be short, we have to be long-term thinkers, without just a short-term vision of profit-making.
What marketing methods have worked for you?
I believe that in luxury you first need to have a ‘pull’ strategy first, before developing a ‘push’ one. Your image will sell your brand more than any salesman. Today, your image is through social medias. We all know how important WeChat is. Then, I would mention Zhihu as highly beneficial for several reasons.
Firstly, the numbers are considerable – certain topics can be followed by hundreds of thousands of people. Moreover, the ability to follow topics ensures that you are reaching your specific target. Furthermore, you can provide personal, caring and thoughtful advice that followers will truly appreciate. For example, a trending question about shoes, which luxury shoe suits which occasion, and even how to properly walk in these shoes in a variety of situations. We gave extensive answers and guidance on such issues and it was appreciated. Our follower base on Zhihu grew even more quickly than on WeChat and than on Weibo.
We hear that the Chinese luxury consumer is becoming ever-more discerning and knowledgable. Yet your services are still popular – what do you feel about the development of etiquette and knowledge?
It is indeed true that generally speaking, the group of luxury Chinese consumers are more knowledgeable. The people from Shanghai and 1st tier cities may have more in common – related to lifestyle – to someone in London or someone in Paris rather than a compatriot who lives elsewhere in China. Yet the scale of the population moving from initial luxury taste to knowledge and understanding is so large that there are continual waves of people entering this demographic.
In our etiquette industry, what is noticeable is that my Chinese clients are concerned with practicality, helpful tips, while the western clientele are more intrigued by the story, the meaning, the heritage behind ‘why’ etiquette is a certain way. But it evolves very fast, we are developing always more advanced classes to meet the rising demand.
How have your clients ‘changed’ in 2018? Is it a new demographic, do they have new requests or particular interests?
This again comes back to globality – that the Chinese person who is living a luxury lifestyle may not always be interested in a specifically ‘French’ methodology of etiquette, but an international knowledge which can be applied anywhere in the world. They want to ensure that the time that they spend learning new skills or taking in new knowledge can be optimised into giving them the most success in the most occasions.
The curiosity and interest is high in all regions of China. I deliver classes from the most northern to the southern regions of China, and all types of city in China have enormous potential for luxury. People want the best for themselves, and their children. This is why we are launching a new program “The Aristocratic Heritage”: a three-day program with dining manners, deportment, social manners and son on. We invite guests to create their own family standards to pass on their heirs.
What should brands realise that’s specific about China?
In my opinion they should above all ensure the quality of their products and their brand image on a long-term basis. Yes, things are changing quickly in China, yes we need to make money today; however we cannot sacrifice tomorrow’s growth for today’s profits, even if there are big opportunities right now. The challenge is to maintain a high brand identity while still adapting products to the market, with consistent quality.