Three Biggest Assumptions to Avoid in China


As you may know, I have been away from China for some years.  On return I have noticed that assumptions still exert a huge bias and liability on marketing practice in China.  Here, I outline three of the biggest in the sincere hope that you ‘drop assumptions’ for the good of your brand here.

In no particularly order, as they are all assumptions that need to be dropped immediately

1. That being foreign makes you special

When China first opened back up to the Western world, back in 1979, more than three decades ago, there was a genuine fascination with foreign culture – from denim, to electronics to fast-food.

Fast forward to today – Chinese consumers will choose foreign brands only if they believe they are the best offered at that price.  Essentially, if a brand is not offering a distinct proposition – beyond the fact that is it more foreign than competitors – this simply will not fly with local consumers.

Sorry, in China, you have to build a local brand story, otherwise you are simply are coming across as, a stranger, or worse, irrelevant.

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2. That all Chinese are ‘about the same’

This particular assumption has somehow become ingrained despite China’s increasing levels of diversification.   In the U.S. – if you casually said New Yorkers represent Americans, or that Londoners or Parisians represented Europeans – you would be immediately challenged.

But no-one hesitates to suggest that Shanghai represents all of China, in fact, one could argue Shanghai least represents the reality of China.   Somewhat obviously, a nation of well over a billion, is divided by regional culture, tradition, wealth, class, education – creating multiple ‘realities’ in China, not a stereotypical collective – that marketers somewhat lazily cling to.

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3. Chinese consumers are simple

Quite often Chinese consumers are assumed to be simple – leading to very basic, and overly tactical approaches to marketing in China.   This stereotype has formed and continued based on observations of China official media content – that is staid, unimaginative, and is created in an ideologically straight jacket.

A wider cultural lens on how Chinese consumers use digital spaces, reveals a world dominated by post-modern logic, humor and expression – something that is not directly comparably to the West.  If it feels like I am saying Chinese consumers are ‘futurist’, then according to what we are observing online, this is indeed the case.

As often happens, a Western standard is applied to new phenomena it can not, by definition, understand, or appreciate.   It is this more expressive expression of Chinese culture that provides brands an opportunity to truly ‘break through’ at the a more profound emotional level.

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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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