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Lost in translation, Part 2

When European companies expand their business, often the most challenging yet most rewarding market to crack is the Chinese one.

Last week Wan Gang, China’s Minister of Science and Technology, stressed the importance of the relationship between China and Europe, while drawing attention to the communications challenges that arise from the significant cultural, historical and traditional differences between China and Europe.

“The friendship between China and Europe shall continue on the basis of respect for each other, candid and close communications. China and Europe will continue to be friends who seek common ground while reserving differences,” he said.

Chinese investors are looking more and more to Europe for projects and investments, supported by platforms such as our clients ChinaGoAbroad. But what about European companies looking to enter the Chinese markets? How can they build an effective communication strategy that respects those differences while effectively marketing their product or service to consumers there?

We asked PR expert Patrik Lockne, Advisor at Springtime, a GlobalCom PR partner for China and Sweden, for his top ten tips for effective marketing in China.

Marketing and branding in China – 10 dos and don’ts

  1. Don’t treat China as a single market, treat it like a continent. There are large variations – more so than in all of Europe – both when it comes to purchasing power and knowledge about product categories and brands. Unless you have massive resources, focus on a narrow area, perhaps a single city.
  2. Chinese customers sometimes value your offering in a way that is different from what you are used to. Perhaps at home you discuss the total cost of ownership with customers – in China, upfront cost may be more important. Prepare to educate.
  3. Find out what government plans there are relevant to your product category. The Chinese economy is to a large extent directed by the state, so keeping abreast of regulations and policy will be important.
  4. Talk to your customers to find out what their needs and expectations are. Don’t be surprised if you have to adjust both product and messaging, as the Chinese market is often different from your home market.
  5. Communicate that you are taking the Chinese market seriously by selecting a good Chinese brand name, using highest-quality translations, localized photos etc. Don’t just use material from somewhere else, it won’t be taken seriously.
  6. Don’t expect to get free recognition by customers just because you have a foreign brand. It doesn’t impress Chinese customers the way it used to do.
  7. The Chinese media market is huge has a fragmented geography and readership. Don’t expect to advertise your way into the market, as it will be hard to reach a narrow audience through paid media. Focus instead on a strategy that aims to get your customers talking and influencing each other.
  8. Don’t accept having to pay journalists to write. If you find you have to, you should rethink what journalists you are talking to, and if the news or information you offer is interesting enough. The same ethical standards on relations to media should apply to China as to other markets.
  9. Take online and social media seriously. In a country as vast as China, online media offers good coverage, and Chinese internet users are very active in sharing their experience with products and services. It is necessary to have a strategy that takes this into account.
  10. Prepare to be copied. The Chinese market may call for special efforts to make sure customers can verify that the products they purchase are genuine.
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