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Proven strategies often need revision for brand success in the Chinese market

Media investment needs to span the customer journey
By Charlotte Wright
Chief Strategy Officer
The population of China is nearing 1.4 billion. While economic growth has slowed, GDP is still enormous and expanding at a healthy rate, above 6 percent annually. These are astounding numbers, but it’s time to stop relying on them and focus instead on how to grow brands against the specific challenges China represents.
Brands need to continually reevaluate their communication and channel strategies, especially where they are following guidelines set down in the past or from outside China. Our most frequently observed sacred cow is the desire to achieve reach, primarily a contributor to awareness.
Reach goals are important. They help brands identify the percentage of their audience that needs to receive a particular message, usually at a set frequency. But here’s the problem: reaching consumers is much more expensive in a country as vast as China. We routinely see brands investing 90-to-100 percent of their marketing budgets in pursuit of this single objective and the perceived awareness and business advantage reach delivers. 
And increasingly indiscriminate reach alone is not delivering results. To compound the problem, brand communication could be more effective. Brands too often sacrifice the salience and coherence of their message in pursuit of multiple, and sometimes confusing, objectives, in an effort to get to conversion and purchase, before sufficiently explaining the brand.
This is not an effective approach in China where consumers encounter rapidly expanding brand choice, and being viewed as meaningfully different is a key determinant of success or failure. We believe our industry needs to get better at challenging these investment assumptions, often based on key performance indicators (KPIs) adapted from other markets.
Instead, brands need to build their knowledge of how brands in China develop and spread their message coherently and cost effectively. Brands need to put the consumer first and consider the roles various channels can play in driving brand growth.
Here’s the good news. The consumer journey is somewhat different in China. Levels of bias towards brands in China are low, meaning a lot of decision making happens at the point of sale relative to other western markets. That attitude potentially creates great opportunity, especially for new and emerging brands with strong offers and stories.