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How the Brits can break into the Chinese market

They do it differently in China, especially in the luxury car business. Chinese buyers like sitting in the back – so Porsche invented the 4-seat Panamera coupe. Hin-Yan Wong, head of research & strategy at automotive specialists Connect Advertising, which launched Bentley’s recent ‘Year of the Snake’ campaign in China, explains how Western brands can break into the Chinese market.

The first step to breaking the China market is simple: do your homework. As with any expansion, researching your markets, understanding customers, getting pricing right, and sourcing local logistics and retail partners are all pivotal to succeeding – as is a thorough competitor analysis.

The good news is being new and foreign is an advantage in China, if your brand is established in the UK already. Chinese consumers are drawn to products that have a fascinating story and have travelled a great distance.

Bentley, Jaguar and Land Rover are still delighting prospects with details of provenance and heritage – but the “made in Britain” stamp in itself arouses positive interest and, in many cases, is as exciting as specifics, so amplify British aspects of your brand and fly the union flag with pride.

The renowned online Great Firewall of China means you can be daring with your online marketing – there is little risk of Chinese campaigns leaking beyond the borders.

Bear in mind though that the country’s social media landscape is huge and complex. ‘Netizens’ are often more social and vocal than their Western counterparts. Sina Weibo, Douban and many others offer exciting ways to reach masses of customers – but make sure you have sufficient local resources, possibly partnering with a local social agency, to sustain engagement.

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Although being British is cool in China, contextualisation and cultural relevance are important if you want your campaign to gain traction. Starting with existing UK material is a good idea, as it naturally carries ‘foreign’ appeal. From this starting point, however, move on to using Chinese models, locations, places and contexts to add relevance. Chinese versions of straplines may need rewriting rather than translating, so they resonate.

If you market a luxury brand, abandon traditional UK stateliness and opt for opulence, ostentatiousness and bright colours which, in China, symbolise affluence and status, as we did with Bentley’s Year of the Snake campaign.

And it’s not just the marketing that needs tailoring – the products may do too. Unlike UK owners, Chinese buyers of luxury cars don’t usually drive themselves; they sit in the back. That’s why Porsche rushed out a four-seater Panamera in double-quick time, and that’s why luxury 4x4s are so popular there.

Brands like Bentley, with a history of personalising products and therefore a built-in capacity for super-tailoring, do well in this market. In 2012, for example, Bentley produced a limited Mulsanne Diamond Jubilee edition exclusively for the Chinese market.

Using a Chinese or British ‘key opinion influencer’ such as a pop star, chef, architect or singer is also important – every brand has one, so don’t go to China without one. However, while cultural relevance matters, don’t be swayed off-brand – use someone relevant to the product and audience. For example, Bentley works with Rose Tan, one of very few female racing drivers in China, to raise the brand’s social media profile – she is both young and cool, appealing to online audiences, and relevant to what the brand stands for.

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Lastly, with rapid urbanisation in China, develop your marketing plan with geography in mind. It is easy to only think of the big Chinese cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing and Tianjin. But there are over 150 cities with a population of 1 million and more – and their residents are hungry for the new and exciting, so don’t overlook them.

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