I think they best way to gauge the keys to success for Western brands in China is to look at the success stories of western brands in the Chinese market and draw out any common actions. I recently read this article by Prophet Brand Consultancy that was published on Forbes.com (see here for full article) and I think it summarises these key actions nicely.

1. Local Market Knowledge.

A brand MUST have on the ground knowledge and experience to see how their brand will fit into the Chinese lifestyle– this can be from hiring locals to manage the Chinese side of the business, using consultants or local marketing agencies or building local partnerships– as long as you have some guidance from those native to the market. According to Prophet Associate Partner David Brabbins, “Unless you can truly help your company navigate the unique realities of every market you seek to enter and every customer segment you might want to target, through hard data and on the ground experience, you are better off waiting on the sidelines until you have a more air-tight strategy.”

2. Act Local.

Localizing products is how you increase localised success. This is a pivotal point for a brand’s products in this competitive and vastly diverse market. Less than a decade ago, Mondelez International considered pulling Oreos from China. But the company drilled down and discovered the taste was too sweet for Chinese consumers and the format wasn’t quite right. Oreo minis and wafer cookies have resonated better.

3. Western Brand Success is not Eastern Brand Success.

Westerners can’t assume if they show up with a strong Western brand, they will displace the competitive local brand anymore. In fact, the opposite is true. Chinese consumers don’t all want to become Westernized consumers. In fact, studies show they are becoming more modern and more Chinese, with a much stronger sense of identity and national pride. Western brands need to create a persona that can be shared between east and west and that respects both cultures equally.

4. Build a Local Alliance. 

Whether it’s Whirlpool’s deal with Suning Appliance Co, one of the country’s largest retailers, J&J and Shisheido developing hair-care products, or GE partnering with China XD Electric for access to China’s electrical infrastructure market, understand that big-name American brands are reaching out for help and doing it with great success. These companies all realised their brands were not strong enough on their own, their channel muscles were under-developed and, as mentioned earlier, they didn’t understand the Chinese consumer as well as their on the ground partner.  It can also prove a hinderence for business to not connect with local suppliers, Apple has so far struggled to sell the iPhone 5c in high volumes, its lower-priced offering, in large part because it has not yet forged an alliance with China Mobile.

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