1.6 billion people, 9,596,961 sq km, 1 political party, 1 currency, 1 time zone. Great producer and exporter of electrical equipment and apparel, inventor of ice cream and noodles. Driving engine of the global automotive market, somewhere between dominating the 21st century and a bursting bubble of deep economic crisis.
There’s a lot to know and even more to learn about China. And there is a whole lot to misunderstand, over-interpret and underestimate. Which is why we have a myriad of stories that may or may not have been believed by their tellers to be true. In other words: myths.
If you wonder if you should expand to China and do business in the Middle Kingdom, or are just an unbiased and interested person with a good sense of style and humor, here is what you need to know about marketing in China and what might or might not be true. Your trusted China experts have gathered the greatest insights behind the Great Wall. Lean back and marvel.
Myth #1: Black is the new gold.
And so is pink. Black is not the new discreet color to express nonchalance and understatement. In China, pink rules the landscape, not only in attire but in luxury cars alike. Well, that is in 2015. Beware, pink might become a myth quickly!
Myth #2: Western styles rule the world.
Western brands have been serving as a leitmotiv to develop tastes and orientation – the classic Westernization. What we see now though is more and more Chinese in China and elsewhere: in a Chinese sense of style and expression, and an easternization of the West. The individual gains ground not only in terms of an emancipation from the West, but ideally also from an exuberant collective.
Myth #3: The internet will revolutionize China.
China is always on. True that. This has led to an increased understanding of consumers’ rights, the shaping of tastes through the means of interchange. Also true: When online, China’s internet users grumble, but they are not yet ready to rumble. China’s digital era remains uniquely Chinese. Beijing allows for a blank canvas of self expression and material gratification, but retains the veto power to control public discourse.
Myth #4: China is lagging behind Western marketing development.
Chinese consumer taste is not yet as mature as the highly developed Western consumption palate. Well of course not, and why would it even want to be like the Western one? The new Generation Y (those aged 15-35) is endowed with a completely different set of values, beliefs, interest and lifestyle. Their tastes and demands are developing at hyper speed, giving way to completely new and unique patterns and tastes. Marketing measures have to adapt to this and be flexible enough to answer to the ever-changing preferences.
Myth #5: The Chinese consumer is inscrutable.
In a way we have to believe this. China’s unique characteristics are manifold, unpredictable and completely undecipherable for a Western palate. Almost. Truth: The collective myth of Chinese consumers is a challenge, but (mostly) dispelled: We are facing a new generation of brand-conscious individualist, and individual as they are, they are still part of consumer groups the size of Germany, or rather twice that size.
Myth #6: The Chinese are the new Dutch.
Nice thought. But no, not yet. But we are getting there. Fact is: Travel and the great outdoors is one of the hottest trending pastime in China. Number of inbound as well as outbound trips are skyrocketing. Watch out there, producers of hiking goods, cameras and travel maps!
Myth #7: Translation is the biggest challenge of marketing in China.
We have to admit: We love Chinglish! Point is, translation as such is beside the point. It is about adaptation. It’s not about grammar, and more than solid advertising skills: Marketing concepts that are to be brought to China need to hit the finely tuned Chinese string. In China, Oreos come as a stick, and the Wackeldackel is the cutest ice bear ever to be rescued by Volkswagen.
Myth #8: Confucius says: Be humble. Silence beats noise.
Well of course: It’s Confucius!
Sorry, but no: In China, it’s all about to see and to be seen. Size matters as much illumination.
Myth #9: Mobile marketing is text message only. Or: You need a proper website to be digital.
Yes, and the world is a disc. By all means, take a very close look at WeChat to get an idea of how mobile is changing the game. China has taken a leap, and this is only the beginning.
Myth #10: E-commerce will surpass the US in volume within this year. And will continue to grow.
No myth here. Completely true.
Myth #11: It’s made in China.
While our parents’ China might have been something similar to “Red China”, our China is dominated by “Made in China” – but our kids’ China will resemble the idea of “Invented in China” more than anything else.
The growing self-confidence and assertiveness reflecting a sense of pride in the Chinese culture and ingenuity is reflected by a growing number of brands that chime in the swan song of the Chinese work bench that is giving way to Chinese innovation.
There is no number 12.
Truth is, there is no number 14, but that story is still to be told. Stay tuned.