When talking about localising for China, we need more space than a headline can provide. To succeed in the world’s leading luxury consumer market, it requires more than ‘localisation for China’. Dealing with a country the size of a continent with distinct dialects, sub-cultures, climates, food, ethnicities and lifestyles makes having ‘a China strategy’ over-simplified.
Each region, consumer demographic, app/platform needs its own sub-strategy – just as you would in any market. Yet while researching, understanding and communicating with different demographics is a global truism, China adds a heavyweight urgency.
Appeal to the right audience in the right way as an international brand, and you can enjoy the kind of commercial success that sees China continue to grow as their leading source of revenue. Get it wrong as a ‘foreign’ business, and you can go so far out as to be completely cancelled from the country altogether.
Brands that have either ignored this advice or simply presumed that they need to be present in China in order to succeed, have suffered failures. These happen in the form of the Chinese target audience being vocal with their dis-satisfaction across social media, badly damaging the brand’s image and popularity – irreparably in some of the most famous recent cases.
The landscape is complex but the conclusion can be simple. If, in the eyes of your Chinese target consumer, your brand chooses a Chinese name that doesn’t work, an influencer that doesn’t fit, a collaboration that doesn’t mesh or tone of voice that isn’t in sync, then you’re out – just ‘another foreign brand’ that’s trying to grab their wallets.
Instead, how can you inspire, engage and provoke the kind of gushing popularity that saw some luxury brands find year-on-year growth, even in 1H 2020?
The Luxury Conversation spoke to Lee Folland, Head of Research at Shanghai-based strategy and communications agency Gusto Luxe. Lee shared with us a few insights from a recent localisation project that revolved around how Chinese naming, messaging and assets, brand tone, collaborations and positioning USP are underpinned by a research-based strategy.
Lee explained: “It’s common to read about the sales successes that luxury brands have in China – even through this challenging year. The success stories didn’t simply happen by a brand entering the market. It’s no coincidence that the campaigns that have achieved virality and turned Chinese followers into brand-fanatics were fueled by research-based insight on what specific consumer sub-sectors are seeking. A fully localised campaign can see the campaign’s related products sell out via e-commerce in less than 24 hours, while generic communications implanted from overseas creates consumer ire and complaint. International brands have an massive opportunity in China – if they commit to insight-led localisation throughout all activity.”
Lee also shared with us a few key pointers that show the way.
It’s important to begin with an understanding the evolution of luxury Chinese consumers. While those more new to luxury – looking at tier 3 cities as an example – are at the early stages of experiencing luxury brands, the affluent, tier 1 luxury consumer has seen it for almost two decades. These consumers are not wowed by the name or logo – even seeing traditional, overt luxury as something that their parents buy. Instead, they now want the story behind the quality, and why they should even be interested in one brand of out thousands they see.
It’s exciting for an international brand to go through their ‘China entry’ – but why should the consumer care? Simply being new and promising ‘high western quality’ is no USP in China today. Moreover, Chinese brands are seeing huge success – with Perfect Diary an example of a brand that is now a firm favourite with beauty consumers.
Naming your brand is an opportunity to show how integrated your brand is in China – that, as a brand, it has considered the culture, nuance and feeling that makes up language. Simply finding Chinese characters that sound a bit like the name is a risk. Read more here about how Chinese consumers will create nicknames for brands and products, and why sticking with your original name doesn’t gel.
Some international brands have simply opted for the same messaging – either using the same western models on their marketing assets in China, or quickly picking a Chinese influencer or brand ambassador that had Chinese netizens outrightly complaining online.
And each platform is distinct. Whether WeChat, Weibo, Red (Xiaohongshu), Douyin (TikTok in China), the tone needs to speak to each audience in the right way.
Collaborations in China are like nowhere else. Fast food with fashion, luxury with video games – read a few more surprising examples here.
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