How does Apple Stop Losing Local Love in China?

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Results last week suggest that Apple has dropped to No.5 in China’s mobile phone market, behind powerful local competitors such as Huawei,Vivo, Oppo and Xiaomi, who combined, now have 53 per cent of the local market. Perhaps more worrying is the emergence online of videos of people smashing iPhones as a sign of ‘patriotism’.

These are dangerous times for Apple, it is not just about the iPhone 7, it has more to do with actually engaging with China’ s middle-class consumers instead of feeding  them ‘generic global’.  As local consumers become more sophisticated with viable local alternatives, it is quite possible Chinese consumers will start to desert the brand on mass – as Apple potentially becomes ‘an excessive’ or ‘unwise’ choice, the worst loss of ‘face’ for savvy locals.

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Signs in Chengdu Apple is already yesterday’s story in China

What is the issue with Apple Inc and iPhone – no attempt to be local

Currently Apple in-store and outdoor media in China is almost exclusively global content. Outdoor advertising is focused on photography taken by the Iphone – all the photographers are recognized as foreign due to the inclusion of their surname. Also Apple continues to promote iWatch, with product-only images.

In a context where Chinese consumers are increasing focused on recording and sharing their experiences, the absence of localized content is noticeable in a highly communicated category.

The key to Apple fighting their way up the charts is to create a stronger level of engagement with middle class consumers. Many of them Apple consumers – they are the key to allowing the brand to maintain momentum in China. If they chose not to upgrade to iPhone 7, this will ‘break a tradition’ that Apple can ill afford to lose.

Apple’s until now loyal tribe of loyal Chinese consumers are now ‘sitting on the fence’ – as others around them gravitate to Oppo and other local brands, there is danger that they start to consider ‘another iPhone’ as a form of ‘unnecessary excess’. Most damming will be if others start to publicize ‘moving away from iPhone as a smart purchase’. This will potentially create a huge leakage of support from this, up to now, loyal grouping.

Despite being in the country for many years, Apple has arguably failed to associate itself with the journey of China – something that seems odd, considering many of the products are assembled here.

If Apple does not make this effort then the middle class in China will feel less inclined to stay with the brand. It reflects a world that was once inspirational to them, but now feels increasingly commonplace.

About Author

Jerry Clode

Jerry Clode is Head of Digital & Social Insight at Resonance. He leads Resonance SMART, providing leading-edge research, strategy and naming for brands in China using bespoke methodologies. Jerry also produces Resonance's popular China Social Branding Report, a bi-weekly publication covering modern marketing methods of the world's top brands.

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