Q&A with Xianlin Xie, Cofounder and President, Elex Technology Company, Ltd.
Elex endeavors to introduce global consumers to the creativity of Chinese brands
Brand building multiplies impact of quality products
How do you raise awareness and consideration of your brand when you enter a new market? How important is brand?
Awareness and consideration were not our first concerns. We thought about how we could make a game that would be wildly accepted by a global audience. How could we make it high quality and exciting? Later we realized that this is not enough. Once you establish in a market it is critical to build a brand that has a clear sense of mission. The brand helps communicate to a broader audience beyond the core customers. It
takes time. Having a product alone, without a strong brand, may work in markets that have an affinity with China, like Southeast Asia. But in markets with higher entry levels, such as the US, the UK, or Japan, it is important to have a brand that surrounds the product with a promise of quality.
What challenges do you face trying to expand the brand beyond familiar country markets?
We make our games to be standard around the globe. But a market like Japan, for example, has local gaming companies with a lot of knowledge and experience. And Japanese consumers have their own preferences for how a game should look and how it should be played. We need to modify our games to meet those local expectations and seem like a Japanese product. In the UK, where consumers are curious about new things, but relatively conservative about accepting them, we develop local market strategies to overcome this reluctance.
The US is competitive and the gaming companies are expert at communicating with their audiences. Also, the US is an expensive media market. We take the time necessary to learn about the competition and the consumers.
Becoming known in each new market is critical. How do you do that?
Our first step is to get enough users. We do this several ways, including using Google. We also rely on our players to find new players. And this phenomenon helps us expand across borders. Most games divide players by country. We do not. Our games have an important social aspect. Getting to know people from other countries and learn about their lives
is an amazing part of our games. People find new friends in other parts of the world. We use a Google translation service, so people can communicate in different languages in real time. We learned about a couple that met playing an Elex game and got married.
How do you shift from the focus on products to brand building?
We try to promote individual games. When a game matures, and we have lot of users, we work on establishing the brand. When our customers have several game brand names in their minds, they realize that it’s all coming from Elex. At that stage, we will work with local agencies and we will do everything a traditional brand would do. We will run ads on TV, in print, on video, and outdoors. We look for local influencers on social media. We will work with celebrities to connect with the local market. In Germany, for example, we worked with the captain of the national football team.
And what can other Chinese brands learn from the Elex experience?
We want to bring Chinese creativity to the global market. Chinese creativity is rooted in Chinese culture. It’s about what how we think and what we do and how that is different from the western mind. The way we design games is different from how a western gaming company designs.
People find the games interesting. They like to experience something they are not too familiar with. Our games are fair and they are strategic. You have to think. And the games have strong social aspects. We create the games using a Chinese mentality, but we also make them simple and accessible. Also, we work quickly, and that enables us to introduce
new features and functions so our audience doesn’t get bored.
What practices used by successful Internet-driven brands are also useful for brands in traditional categories?
Trial and error is important. One of the reasons for the success of Internet-driven brands is that the cost of trying new things is relatively low. These brands can move quickly to try something and, if it doesn’t work, go in another direction. Brands in more traditional categories can use trial and error when launching a new product or adding a new service or feature to an existing product. We also pay attention to customizing and localizing our products for specific audiences. And these are initiatives that can happen in more traditional categories. Even though we create standard products, we also tailor them to meet local market needs.
How has the company’s experience abroad changed or improved the way the brand is positioned or perceived at home in China?
Having a strong overseas presence helps the brand a lot in China. Now, Chinese customers think of Elex as a company that can conduct business successfully overseas. They see that our products are widely respected by people in other countries. That overseas respect builds trust in the Elex brand. It is an endorsement of the brand, a guarantee that our products meet the highest global standards.
Based on the international success of brand like Elex, do you think that the perception of Chinese brands has changed?
The perception has not change completely, but it has moved on from the days when Chinese products were considered to be cheap and of low quality. Chinese brands are becoming more innovative. Years ago in the gaming industry some Chinese brands were seen as copy cats. Now we have a unique and innovative way of creating games. We try to infuse our games with Chinese creativity. I think people outside China see this change and like it. Is innovation a characteristic of Brand China today across many categories, or only the Internet- driven categories?
I think it is across categories because all of these brands recognize the power of innovation and they want to introduce new things. Whether it’s a brand from an established category or an Internet-driven category, we are doing the same thing. A key driver of this change is the pain of not being able to enter a market. You want to enter overseas markets but you can’t because of the competition. And that’s when you need to identify the gap between Chinese brands and international brands. That gap is mostly about innovation. Another driver is the Chinese consumer. Twenty years ago Chinese consumers had little choice. Now Chinese consumers can choose among domestic and international products. That competition motivates Chinese brands to improve.
Is there a generational aspect to the improving perception of Brand China?
Yes, China’s younger generation has grown up in an Internet environment with few borders. These people think globally. They combine the strengths of local culture with international experience and best practices.
And yes, our customers outside of China also come from a younger generation. Younger customers are more opened minded. They like to try new things and they’re curious about China. And the attitudes of this generation of international customers affects the perceptions of Chinese brands held by their friends and even their parents – the older generation.
Are there any advantages that an exporting Chinese brand enjoys simply because it is Chinese and conducts business in a particular way?
If I needed to choose one characteristic that distinguishes Chinese companies, it would be speed. Chinese companies are able to work faster because they are more focused on creating quality products and less focused on thinking about how to create quality products. The faster you can do something, the faster you can change and adapt. Chinese brands can achieve speed because people are willing to work long hours. It’s common for game developers to work until midnight. Gaming companies are filled with young faces. It’s hard to find someone older than thirty-five. And many of these people have studied abroad. That means companies are staffed with talented, educated, more opened-minded workers.