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Jun
2015

Building a bridge to their hearts

In planning the March issue of the Luxury Insights China report, there was to be a completely different piece here under this section, but the recent profit warning from Mulberry that was blamed on a lack of Chinese tourists spending with them after Christmas, triggered a change in plan. What was interesting to us was the assumption that Chinese tourists would know the brand and would naturally want to buy it.

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Global fame is not Chinese fame

The Mulberry situation is not uncommon among brands that are new to China or those who aim to attract Chinese luxury tourists through their doors. Many brands may have ‘fame’ elsewhere in the world, but this does not directly translate to ‘fame in China’, and in fact there are brands here that have positioned themselves as luxury that have a lower status elsewhere in the world. It’s all about positioning and regular communication.

The most critical thing any brand needs to do in China is to build trust and subsequently a bridge to the consumer’s heart. There isn’t a quick fix to this, and it will take time, depending upon how it’s done. A further issue to highlight here is that finding a place in the Chinese hearts is not about how many stores you have here if you have any at all, but of course a store is a great advertising hording even if it doesn’t turn a profit. The Chinese consumer now has far more choice, greater knowledge and wants to establish a place in their heart for brands that satisfy a need to belong, and self-reward, so having a strategy to achieve this is a must.

For our regular readers, you will recall a piece in the January/February Luxury Insights China Report called ‘Media coverage in China; a necessity and not a nicety’ that outlined the basic activities required to build brand awareness and trust here. We expand on this below, using the case mentioned in point.

The steps to success

Tactical advertising alone will not attract Chinese consumers to your door, particularly when you consider the level of competition here and see luxury magazines packed with product and brand advertising. What it will do is to start establishing a level of trust in the brand because consumers see the adverts as proof the brand exists and is of good quality, has money to invest and is trusted by the media. Maintaining that trust once established requires brands to continue gaining media coverage on a regular basis.

Advertising in the print media in China is expensive, and in fact after a slow 2012, we have seen many of the big players cut back in this area and replace long-term advertising deals in favour of spot coverage. But there are cost effective alternatives that can and should be used provided brands have the right local partners on their side. One specific approach we favour is gaining advertorial through a close relationship with the print media, by helping editors write new and interesting stories. This is a great way to get the localised brand messages across, and to begin embedding them in the consumers mind, and subsequently to have them repeated it within their circle. It’s a proven process recommended by us and used by a number of now successful brands here.

Advertorial is a strategic approach to building the brand, and there must also be tactical activities to actually have consumers physically engage with the brand and its products which we will come to. What is very important for both are localised messages and stories that run through everything you do and say; if you read the Insiders Insights section of this report, you’ll see a comment from Kate Huang about the need for international brands to adapt to the local market.

Often a new brand will assume that it can apply its global standards here and often it cannot, things must be localised. Get these messages and your positioning right before you actively promote the brand in China, as it’s hard to change them afterwards. There are many stories of luxury brands entering China some years ago and pulling back out again a few years later; some are now trying to return. Perhaps some will have suffered with the wrong partner, or arrived too soon, but many failed because they didn’t understand the market and couldn’t communicate with consumers in the appropriate way.

Getting up close and personal is critical today

Tactically ensure the media see, touch and use your product, if they like it, they will comment on it regularly in their publication and it may not cost you much money. Bring small groups of influential consumers together to learn about the brand and to touch the product. Establish a local social media presence in China, and in Chinese for them to belong to and follow. Drip feed stories through social and traditional media using a local partner who knows what to say and how to say it for you, often having an organisation separate from your distribution partner works better because they can step away from day to day selling and focus on building connections with consumers. We don’t mean PR, which can be very unscientific, but we mean specific targeted communications.

Many brands often rely on their in country partner completely and invest little or no time or money in working to develop the status of their brand in China. Unfortunately this approach is very risky, and particularly if a brand wants to drive consumers to its stores globally no matter if it has them in China; it needs to invest in order to see the rewards. Tactical advertising could have a place in the mix, but experience would tell us that what consumers want and expect now is a close relationship with brands, and not an arm’s length one.

To succeed in the Chinese luxury market today, requires a strategy focused on building a bridge between the brand and the consumers heart, if you want to be loved by consumers here, show them some love first.


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