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Engage your Chinese Consumers Better

Why some companies struggle and ultimately fail in China.

Rugby players working as a team

Aim2D: real time, 24/7 #ChinaBusinessMarketing, Tech and Social Media News Portal of The Bicaverse based in sunny Shunyi, North east Beijing. Tuesdays we look at business, marketing, tech or social news in and around China. Friday is image gallery where we examine a place, topic or subject giving you greater insight, background to life in China, and of course, your Chinese consumer. If hard, practical, realistic China consumer marketing support is what you need, do drop into our sister site: Unegager. Finally, in a sign of the times, we can assure you that our content is 100% loving created and hand crafted by a fellow human. No AI chatter bots here.

Last Sunday, Feb 5th saw China celebrate Lantern Day which officially marks the end of the Chinese Spring Festival. So, it’s back to work.

Yesterday, Monday Feb 6th the new working year started for most Chinese. Although, as we have noted in other articles, there are some who will have a few extra days of leave left and are extending their holiday.

Aim2D is the media arm of The Bicaverse, a collection of organisations with a common purpose.
In particular, Bicyu and Uengager marketing studios based in Beijing. So, at the start of each working new year, we run an article focused on business in China. Or more succinctly, successful business in China.

To form any business in China and be successful 20 years later is no mean feat, so we feel a certain pride in that achievement. However, as we have said in many of our past articles, we know, like most Chinese, that China is not perfect. We all know there is a lot of work to do do.

TheBic often quotes CJ; CEO in a rather old, British TV series:

We didn’t get where we are today by being negative or pessimistic.

The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin: written by David Nobbs. Source: Wikiquote

So most of the articles in Aim2D are positive because we feel its important, not to just counter balance the seemingly never ending mainstream media’s China negativity. But also to highlight the opportunities here. To show what can be done with determination and effort. A lot of effort. We are proof.

“Why some firms struggle and ultimately fail in China.”

Image source ; https://agmetalminer.com/

To labour the point we can also quote an old business maxim that warns: Success comes in cans – not cannots. No can opener or ring pull tab provided. Or the concept of PMA (positive mental attitude) conceived by Napoleon Hill in his 1937 best seller book: “Think and Grow Rich.”

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

If you are even remotely thinking of China as a destination for your business and read nothing else this year, we urge you to read Rachel Speedy’s interview at the foot of this article.

Since first registration in 2003, we have 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 Embassy’s Trade and Enterprise section.

Now don’t misunderstand, these are excellent resources, and embassies have good Gvt relationships. If you are a major business that is useful intel. But often white papers, 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’ve said in other posts, do NOT write off 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?

We’ve talked about small provinces here:

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 field 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.

We have also covered That before too:

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 be dealing with a trusted agency in your own city. However they may well have outsourced your account to a lesser known or quality agency here in China.

On the other hand, some companies have little choice. China may be a huge country but the marketing world is minuscule. A few global brands have a bad reputation and not everyone wants to work with them. Local agencies, such as Uengager are fussy who they work with these days.

Ok, time to introduce Rachel Speedy, a New Zealand woman who carved out a business in China’s F&B sector. One of China’s toughest from any angle.

This interview with Rachel 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!

Big thanks to Glenn Baker Editor of Exporter Today for sourcing the link to Rachael’s story. You may also enjoy this article, also from Exporter Today: Creating that lasting first impression for China F&B

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