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Media coverage in China, a necessity and not a nicety

Understanding the necessity

With the expansion of geographic reach, the growing competition, and the business potential that the market projects, luxury brands in China have invested heavily in communicating with their target consumers through all forms of advertising, media exposure, events and digital activities. In 2012, there was an increased level of promotion via TV advertising and large-scale events, which pushed up the overall investment bar for brands that are currently in the process of expanding and those preparing to enter the country.

Consumers in China now have many more choices available than they have ever had before. With all this money being spent on persuading them to stay with the existing brands and consume more, the less established brands and newcomers to China need to actively communicate with potential customers making strong, clear statements about themselves and their values. On one hand consumers must be made aware that ‘I am here’, and on the other, the brand must explain why it should be trusted and why they, the consumer should choose to spend money with it.

Those who understand and appreciate Chinese culture will know that Chinese consumers are generally suspicious, and are constantly looking for evidence to prove what they are being told is true; asking friends for opinions, seeking brand visibility across different media sources, and nowadays doing a quick searching on the internet. No brand should lose on this front. Starting with, and maximising PR efforts through the media requires less monetary commitment than pure advertising, as well as creating a level of trust which advertising is not able to offer. It is all about ensuring frequent exposure, which in turn builds trust with consumers, and enhances their appreciation for growing brands. Even the long established brands have to follow these rules, as they need to keep their influence strong amongst consumers noted for a lack of loyalty.

With more and more Chinese traveling and shopping overseas, brands no longer have to need a physical presence in China. However, familiarity amongst the Chinese consumers will always lead to sales. No matter whether a brand has a presence in the most popular department store or shopping mall in London, Paris or New York, it will not necessarily guarantee sales as the Chinese consumer will head straight for the brands they know and recognise while shopping in an environment they are unfamiliar with.

Luxury exploration is however, the habit of a small group of sophisticated consumers, and therefore capturing their attention before they travel becomes the minimal activity any brand should consider practicing in China. It is achieved through media exposure and discussion, advertising investment, a Chinese website and the utilization of social media. Established brands that are doing well in the Chinese market have invested over what in some cases could be a 20-year period. For the later comers, a commitment to investing in media coverage is a smart and necessary move.

Focusing on the core

Story, story, story! In a mature market while brands have had along-standing presence and consumers are relatively sophisticated, there is less need for the introduction of the brand. But in a fast growing market like China, gone is the time when people just spent on internationally renowned brands without needing to know much of what they stood for. To fuel their growth, brands must communicate their brand story, either through the media or by investing in some form of exhibition to showcase its heritage.

And of course in practice, out of those telling their stories, some are exciting and engaging while others just cannot get the message right. For those who understand Chinese people and culture, they will appreciate how story telling is an integral part of life, and China’s long history has shaped people’s appreciation for workmanship and quality. Consumers are naturally looking for a legendary story to tell others related to the things they purchase. Therefore the story is not only all about what a brand wants to tell the consumers to impress them or make them feel better, but it must take into account what the consumers would like to pass on to others.

Before telling a story, it is essential to examine what is to be told, as some brand values will work better than others in Chinese culture, and often not the ones that work in other parts of the world. Therefore, understanding the brand proposition for this new market, defining the offering and identifying the differences, are the key to making the story more compelling and the brand presence ultimately sustainable. This fact holds true especially for brands that are preparing for market entry, where seeing sales develop quickly will bring greater confidence, but a lack of commitment in such an investment will result in the brand finding it difficult to take off, it’s a catch 22 situation.

The luxury market today is far more competitive and sophisticated than before, while established brands have invested significantly in marketing activities, the newer brands building their physical presence are looking for opportunities to build awareness and will enhance their marketing efforts in the new year in order to differentiate their offering. Effectively reaching the right target consumer is not only the job for the brands already in China, but as importantly for those planning to enter China or to attract sales back in its own domestic market.

As the market becomes larger and busier, and the number of businesses in the sector grows, the sector related media network expands, and as a result there are more media organisations to engage with. Having said this, an old fashioned approach is probably going to help you to excel in this situation. In China, while others are competing on media spending, one can innovate and invest in what brings hearts and minds together. Acknowledge that it is impossible to visit all the press, but select the ones that are important to your business, take product to them or bring them close to the product, meet them individually and then tell them the story or update them on the latest development associated with it. When meeting the press, treat them with respect, appreciate their time, and help them understand your brand and product in detail. Lastly remember that they are more useful than just helping you to put a piece or article in their magazine or newspaper. Their influence can be significant.

Getting the basics right

While communicating through digital media, there are some fundamentals you must get right and communicate clearly, and often this only requires a limited amount of effort:

Many brands have already gone past the point of providing a Chinese local language option on their website, or a dedicated website for the China market. Our advice to the ones that still haven’t done so is that this is a small investment to make and not to miss this opportunity of communication. Although young Chinese consumers speak English, having a site in the local language will register the information more precisely and require less effort on their part while browsing. What you say is not straight translation, and communication will need to be nuanced accordingly.

Local Internet users enjoy fast connection speeds in China, but remember that access to a foreign-hosted site will be much slower for individuals here because of the firewalls. Consider having the site hosted in China, or it will take considerably longer for the users to load content and browse what you have to say. Don’t assume they have the patience to wait long.

Make sure that all your local stores are listed on your official site with contact information, and update it when there is change. Letting the consumers quickly and easily know where to find you is more important than you might think.

Social media such as Facebook, twitter, and YouTube are not accessible in China. Therefore no matter how much brand related information are available on those sites, it is still not available for the Chinese consumers. Instead of promoting Facebook on your China site, Weibo is a better alternative to reach the local consumers, and write in Chinese.

If you are targeting a younger consumer group, there is no excuse not to create a Weibo account and kick off the communication with them. Maximizing what social media or digital media can do for a brand in China is important, because the Internet is so well accepted. Also don’t assume that if your brand currently targets the older consumer group, or you offer only high products such as watches and jewellery, that a strong social media presence is not required. Investing today will enable you to catch the Chinese consumer of tomorrow.

Investment in the media and PR in China has always been important as a means to develop consumer trust. As the market has grown and consumer knowledge and experience has improved, this need has increased. Competition is even greater, and consumers are presented with more choices. Now is the time to commit to investment in China. Media coverage is a necessity not a nicety.


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