09
Jun
2013

In China the less obvious attributes can be the best

Whenever I speak to someone new to the Chinese market, I always start with two statements. The first is that to learn China, you will probably have to forget everything else you know about doing business elsewhere in the world, and the second is that in China often things are back to front when compared to those in the west. Although both are not entirely universal, they apply in the vast majority of cases.

The second point is interesting because it brings into question how perception rules the way we see ourselves or in this case, luxury brands see their own values and attributes. If I walk into a luxury store in Europe or the US, the staff and by association the brand itself expects me to think and behave in a particular way, so the store is designed to maximise the impact based on these rules, and the staff will focus and direct their service based on the brand guidelines or their own personal perceptions of what they think is important to me. Unfortunately, in China, and for the Chinese consumer, the attributes that the brand considers its weakest can be the most important, and those that it normally focuses on can be irrelevant.

Take packaging for example. When buying any product, the first impression of the recipient is critical for the Chinese, if the packaging of the product is superb the first impression and hence the givers ‘face’ are enhanced. In the West, most people will look at the packaging, but the product is what they focus on, and in fact the packaging may be discarded quickly. Many luxury brands pay limited attention to packaging because they don’t see it as high on the list of priorities in their perception of value, but in China packaging sells, no matter how good the product is.

For brands that have brochures, the actual thickness of the paper, the number of pages and the weight of the cover takes priority over the actual detail within it, because in China perception will be that a heavy brochure means a high quality, expensive and valuable product or service. It can be left out for others to see, and for exactly the same reason, the same assumptions will be made. Perhaps many brands choose to only provide e-brochures, or if they do actually offer printed versions, they are lightweight and basic, because in the West few customers actually want them, they just want the facts.

Service also presents similar traits. A luxury consumer in the West may feel comfortable if the staff politely and respectfully ignores them until they show a need for help, whereas in China, being greeted by the store or hotel manager on arrival is a must for a luxury consumer who expects to be openly acknowledged.

The simple rule for China is to leave your original perceptions at the door when entering, and be prepared to turn what you thought you knew on its head.

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