Why some brands struggle and ultimately fail in China.

Why some brands struggle and ultimately fail in China.

WPBeijing was a marketing studio founded by Peter Bic and Everlyne Yu in Beijing, October 2003. In 2017 it became known as Bicyu NZ Co Ltd. Aim2D is an umbrella media arm of Bicyu. This article is part of a Weekend Series where we dare to share some of our experiences and insights. So, make yourself a pot of Oolong tea, grab a chocolate bar and settle down for a longer read.

Winning in China means hard work, impeccable preparation and playing as a team

and grab the opposition where it hurts

Rugby players working as a team
Rugby players working as a team

Since first registration in 2003, Bicyu has worked with many brands of all shapes and sizes, both domestic and overseas. From Midea to VW, to Sodexo to Cushman Wakefield to name drop a few~ We have also counselled and worked alongside many smaller brands hopeful of breaking into the challenging China market.

The years have given us valuable insight, not only into what is needed to be successful here, but also the reasons so many brands fail. Having said that, we need to bear in mind that China and the China marketing landscape is in a state of perpetual motion- constant flux. So, what worked to day, at breakfast may not work tomorrow or today at lunch time.

Much has been written about the reasons and % of foreign business that fail inside 18 months in China- it is staggeringly high. However, like most old hand marketers in China, we can agree that the following are among the top reasons why some brands struggle to gain traction and ultimately fail in China.

#1 reason: Failure to completely research and understand the China market and Chinese consumer. This is not easy, which is the reason Aim2D exists. However, many have not really invested enough time physically in China. A few, none at all. Some depend largely on their Embssy’s Trade and Enterprise section.

Now don’t get me wrong, these are excellent resources, and embassies have good Gvt relationships. If you are a major business that is useful intel. But often white papars, reports etc take a bit of time to gather, collate and publish. Remember, we said China is fluid, things may have changed in that time. By all means, avail yourself of what ever you can- but there really is no substitute for first hand, boots in the mud experience.

Get out of the city spend some time in the provinces. Look, listen ask questions. Understand where your potential customer is, what she does and what impacts her life. Because these will surely impact on her decision making regarding your product.

And, as we have said in other posts, do NOT write off the second or even 3rd tier provinces in China. China is- substantially – more than just Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong. Sure, we get it, there is more “ex pat” life in those places. Possibly an easier, more comfy lifestyle. But get a focus- what is REALLY important, you and your comfort or your customers?

Our head rugby game image is not accidental. We chose it because marketing to Chinese is a tough, rough bruising game. And like any tough game, you need the right mental attitude to begin with. You also need to know the filed you are playing on, the competition, their strengths and weaknesses. It is not a Sunday stroll in the park. It can be long, gruelling battle. Be prepared, mentally and financially for the long game.

#2 Failure to appreciate that China IS different from probably every other market they have been in. It is not Japan. It is not Taiwan. It is not Hong Kong.
This has also been “done to death” on many articles over the decades. But still, we find some brands with western arrogance who believe they can manipulate the Chinese market.

Sure, we understand, you’re a huge multi national with “clout.” China will bend to you. Go talk to Google, Amazon, Walmart, they had similar ideas. It is not an exclusive club.

Yes, the old argument re the playing field being uneven, things stacked against foreign firms is true. So get over it. That is the reality of the game here. If you aren’t tough enough or can’t play by those rules, forget it. Don’t waste your money.

If you come from a country with a few hundred year culture, leave your smugness at home. China’s culture spans thousands of years. They are proud and patriotic. Not likely to be impressed by you. It is their sports ground, their game, their ref, their rules, their balls and their goalposts. If they feel like shifting them from time to time, they will. Without notice. Get that crystal before you come here.

#3: Failure to choose the right China partner. Most often, foreign firms choose foreign agencies – those with “partners” here.  In many cases they are better off with Chinese firms, boots on the ground + ingrained cultural background.

Often they will not be advised by, or follow their agency.They have their own plan, strategy and ideas and are reluctant to vary from that. This “western arrogance” is discussed time and time again on LinkedIN.

You may think you are dealing with a trusted agency in your own city. They may well have outsourced your account. Of course, some brands have little choice. Local agencies, such as Bicyu are fussy who they work with these days.

Ok, time to top up your teapot water whilst we introduce Rachael Speedy, a New Zealand woman who carved out a business in China’s F&B sector. One of China’s toughest from many angles.

This interview with Rachael dates back to early 2018, but is still relevant today. It has a NZ flavour and focus, but is applicable to anyone and any sector. In our view, it should be compulsory reading with a 4 hour exam before anyone is allowed to even think of the China market!

Thanks for reading our China news, marketing, tech and social media article – we hope it was useful, relative, informative, valuable.
We would be honoured if you subscribed to our content.

Not Useful?
Then perhaps you may like to chat directly and personally with Everlyne?

But please, be aware of local (China) time when calling from overseas. Despite rumours to the contrary, Everlyne is human, not a bot, she does eat, drink and sleep – sometimes.

Whatever your question re Chinese Business, Marketing Tech or Social Media, she will know the answer, or know someone who does! A brief intro below;


In 2003 Everlyne Yu co-founded WPBeijing Marketing Studio with Englishman Peter Bic, now known as Bic Brands.

She began Uengager, a company focused on customer engagement, as a SaaS MarTech company in 2017.

Hello, Nihao, I’m Everlyne

I love to talk about and help people understand the amazing ways MarTech and SaaS can work to strengthen your business engagement with Chinese consumers.
I know you have questions or want to talk about your brand or business in China so please, drop me a line opposite. If you prefer live chat, call and talk to me live, in person direct.


Everlyne is also a key note speaker, lecturer and KOL on MarTech in China. She is CEO of Uengager, business development officer for Bicyu.

Everlyne hs been privileged to work with a variety of international organisations, from VW, Cushman Wakefield, Sodexo, Bristol Myers Squibb to local Chinese firms such as Midea, and OK Order.

If you’re looking for guidance, tips, advice on any aspect of starting or growing a business in China or training, coaching your existing China marketing team for excellence, be sure to check out Uengager. Home page and base for Everlyne Yu. Read her short bio – opposite left – or contact her direct – below – for a free, heart to heart chat.

Bicyu client logo bar
A selection of Bicyu clients since 2003


Follow Uengager on Wechat

Note: App is in Chinese and needs WeChat account to access.

WeChat QR Code


Take Tea with Everlyne


Covid’s persistence means this address is not always available.
But Beijing has many tea shops or cafes where we can still meet and chat

B1 XlabBuilding 1, TusPark B, Tsinghua Science Park

No.1 East Zhongguancun Road,Beijing, Haidian District 100084China

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started
%d bloggers like this: