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Never presume or assume in China; perception is very much the basis of their reality

In a country like China, presumption and assumption are difficult states of mind to adopt if you want to be successful; particularly because nothing is ever clear in communication with the Chinese unless it is explicit and often its not. Culturally, leaving things in a state of ‘grey’ is quite normal, and there is an unwritten sub-text that is understood by locals, and that we foreigners take years to come close to interpreting. Most of us have gathered throughout our lives that perception is often the basis of reality. However, perception in China is the only thing that determines how you, your brand and anything else you work on is seen and evaluated, often actual facts are carefully ignored.

Most foreigners tend to presume that the international brands that we all know and are familiar with, are equally well recognised by others around us, and therefore we assume that the values and attributes of that brand are universally recognised the world over. It has always amazed me over the many years that I have worked in this sector in China, how many senior executives of globally recognised brands come here and assume that the populous both knows the name of the brand, and somehow has an existing affinity for it. The big news for them every time is that China is a blank canvas, and whether you are a multi-billion dollar conglomerate or a relatively new start up; you all have no choice but to start in the middle kingdom from exactly the same place.

Of course the investment levels differ depending on the size of the business and its targets, but basically the process is the same. The great thing about the blank piece of paper is that, those within the organisation who establish the China strategy potentially have a free hand to communicate just about any message they choose to, and in fact an opportunity exists (and is often taken up) to completely change how the brand is seen here verses its perception elsewhere across the globe. Taking a brand that sits in the premium or fast fashion sectors internationally, and selling it as luxury in China has been done more than once….

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