Inside FutureBrand: Insights from Sophie, General Manager - China

16 December, 2019 Share socially

What made you embark on a career in branding?

I studied economics and statistics at university and started my career in research and business strategy. However, I’ve always been passionate about design and creativity - I simply think it makes life more meaningful and fun. Branding enabled me to combine my business skills and experience with creativity.

Is China ready to build global brands?

Yes. Chinese companies and their employees are becoming increasingly confident. China is playing a leading role in many fields for example digital, construction, online banking and ecommerce. Many companies have the vision and resources to become global leaders and there is a blueprint for success as Maotai, Oppo, Tencent, Alibaba, Huawei for example are already influential global brands.

What can western branding consultants learn from China?

The success of many Chinese companies is down to their unique values and corporate culture, which is deeply rooted in ancient Chinese philosophy. There are also some companies that are building their own unique corporate culture which is founder led such as Huawei's wolf culture, Alibaba's swordplay culture... I think the difference in philosophy and values is interesting for western consultants to bear in mind.

What do brands need to do to succeed in China?

There is a cache to being an international company in China and brands entering the market should pay attention to the positive attributes associated with being ‘international’ – they have a reputation for being advanced, high quality and reliable.

However, at the same time they need to adapt and provide a localized version of themselves to build the emotional link with China consumers by merging and embracing Chinese culture in their global brand. There are a number of global brands already doing this very successfully including Starbucks, Coca-Cola and KFC. Chinese culture is based on respect so Western brands need to respect Chinese consumers.

The notorious ‘great firewall of China’ has proven to be a barrier for agencies trying to market in China, does this barrier affect strategy on a brand level when considering activation?

I don’t believe so. Some oversea media platforms are blocked in China, but almost every media channel has a similar Chinese version, for example Instagram Vs. Tik-tok, Facebook vs. WeChat/Renren.com. On the other hand, there are also thousands of social media brands in China - almost too many channels to choose from. It’s important to identify the key ones and not get distracted by the rest.

Is branding seen as being as important in China as it is in the rest of the world?

Yes and we take it enormously seriously. Previously, only the top global 500, nation-owned companies or the leading company in each category invested in branding. Now, private companies like Luye, start-up brands and companies which have the investor backing are willing to invest in their branding.

In some sectors, especially the food and beverage industry at the moment, branding is pivotal to their success. How can consumers distinguish between the myriad of pure water or mineral water brands if they look the same or even taste the same? That category is currently producing some of the best branding in the industry. Also, some mid-sized or smaller popular restaurants, tea shops, bakeries have very good branding with strong narratives and names, as well as consistent and premium visual identities. It’s an exciting time to be involved in branding in China.