Posted: May 25th, 2022

Culture on Brand Building in the Chinese Market

Culture on Brand Building in the Chinese Market

Recently a great deal of discussion has taken place regarding the best approach to build a successful brand in an increasingly globalized market. A globalized market is defined as including emerging markets, which are quite different from the markets found in the developed world. Prior to the influx of the globalized market place, corporations did not concern themselves with geographically distant marketplaces. (Ayala, 1996).

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In today’s market, a majority of the established brand names come from the Western world. (Chan, 1997). However, as these Western brands expand into the international market, and thus into new markets in developing nations, these companies have realized that foreign markets are often more attractive than their domestic counterparts. For this reason, Wester brands have been moving towards creating a brand recognition similar to what they created in their Western origins.

One of the most lucrative developing markets in today’s world in China. Due to a combination of China’s reputation as a challenging country to break into, lengthy history and recent rapid movement of development attract foreign businesses to the nation. Commencing with Deng Xiaoping’s open-door reforms, China has moved into the spot of “world’s biggest market.” Part of this has to do with its population of 1.2 billion. Once the market doors opened, many international businesses moved in and established a market presence with the hope of earning a significant profit.

Suprisingly, this was easier said than done. A vast majority of businesses failed due to a general lack of knowledge as to both the Chineses people and the Chinese way of doing business. (Ayala, 1996). Those who did succeed still initally eventually found themselves withdrawing from the market. In the big picture, very few foreign companies have succeeded in building brands in the Chinese market. Those who have succeeded did so by working to enhance the status of their brand by adopting culturally appropriate strategies and establishing economically sensitive business operations. (Muhlbacher, 1999).

Thus, when it comes to establishing a successful brand in the Chinese marketplace, the question is “What can be learned from these past attempts?” First and foremost one has to consider the companies themselves and evaluate the mistakes they made. Second, the companies that were somewhat successful should be evaluated as compared to the first group, taking particular note as to the critical differences that have led to their success. When doing this, the differences can be summarized into two broad categories. First, many firms make the mistake in believing that the Chinese market is similar to the Western market they are use to operating in and therefore utilize the same branding strategies. The second group are the companies that spend a majority of their time observing the market, trying to comprehend the method of Chinese business from the outside. Needless to say, both of these groups ultimately fail at doing successful business in the emerging Chinese market. In order to succeed, one needs to first understand the cultural issues and then reorganize so as to adapt to these issues.

Understanding Cultural Issues

In order for a traditionally Western corporation to do successful business in the Chinese market, several issues need to first be clarified. First, one needs to understand the essential differences between the Western and Chinese markets. Second, one has to understand how to deal with these differences.

Collective Society

One of the primary differences between Western and Chinese culture is the role that the individual plays in society. Whereas in the West, individualism is the dominate trait of the typical consumer, in China the consumer is much more a collective. (Hofstede, 1994). Take for example the compute corporation, Dell. Dell has done a successful business in the West by branding itself as a customized computer provider aimed at meeting the needs of the individual consumer. However, this branding strategy has not been successful in China. In China, because of the collective mentality of society, the Chinese consumer prefers a standardized product as opposed to the customized product.

Clearly, collectivism continues to play an important role in Chinese society. For example, it is quite common for three or four generations of a family to share a house. (Usunier, 2000). Likewise, collectivism plays an important role in consumer patterns, especially as many companies are state-owned. In order to succeed in the Chinese marketplace, the Western corporation needs to adapt their marketing and branding strategies in order to meet this collective approach to consumerism.

B. Brand Perception

Despite this state-controlled market, the average Chinese consumer is quite aware of the brands. In fact, long-established brands are considered more reliable than recent entrants into the market place. Further, foreign brands carry a high regard by the Chinese consumer. Partly due to the low levels of technological development in the nation’s past, foreign brands carry a reputation of being better than the local brands. For this reason, foreign brands have a foundation of success and reputation from which to work from. More so, foreign brands are often regarded as being more fashionable and therefore have a higher demand.

However, it should be noted that this reputation is not as strong as it once was. As the Chinese marketplace has continued to develop, so has the reputation of its homemade products. Thus, today the Chinese consumer places more emphasis on the quality of the product than just the brand on the packaging. Likewise, the Chinese are careful shoppers, often sampling several alternatives of a product before making a decision as to which brand they will purchase. One reason for this change towards local products is that, with the increase in technology, the average Chinese consumer feels that it is easier to get something serviced if it is a local brand.

To summarize this branding trend in China, it can be said that as consumption grows, so does the brand selectivity of the consumer and, thus, the competition between brands. (Pan, 2002). What the Western corporation needs to take from this information is that, in developing its branding strategy, the company should consider coordinating campaigns to extol several beneficial aspects of the product as opposed to merely just one specific aspect.


One of the most significant barriers to doing successful business in the Chinese market place is language. As all business transactions center around the ability of the parties to communicate, a fundamental understanding of the language is essential. Without language, a corporation cannot build a brand image or deliver marketing information to the consumer. (Melewar, 1999). Clearly, the Chinese language system is significantly different from that of Western cultures. Within this difference in language is the difference in the thinking process of the Chinese people.

For example, each character in the Chinese language has its own specific meaning. This fact poses a challenge to the Western corporation who is trying to introduce their brand into the Chinese market because the foreign brand name itself does not mean anything to the Chinese consumer. Thus, the Chinese consumer will often view the brand symbol to the product itself, meaning that a company who uses a meaningful brand name will have that name associated with the product and thus is more likely to be remembered by the Chinese consumer.

A key characteristic of successful companies in the Chinese market is their ability to understand the language and in finding a brand name that fits both the product and the meaning of the brand. For example, the Coca-Cola company, whose Chinese translation, ke-kou-ke-le means “tasty and happy” serves the purpose of linking the brand name with the quality of the product and the result of using it. The advertisements used in marketing such a brand helps the brand become a popular product on the marketplace.

Aesthetic Sense

The Chinese people carry with them a strong aesthetic sense, based on their perceptions of nature. To the Chinese consumer, in general, images of the natural form are highly attractive. For example, mountains and animals are often used in association with brand names in order to create attractive brand imagery and visual displays. On the other hand, abstract symbols are not favored as they are inconsistent with the Chinese cultural preference for natural aesthetics. Further more, the marketer needs to understand that the Chinese people enjoy complicated forms and shapes and certain colors. For example, the color red is seen as being the most cheerful color and thus can be successfully used to attract people’s attention. Another example is the Chinese preference for peaceful imagery, largely a result of the influence of such religions as Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism.

When a company is designing a strategy for marketing their brand in the Chinese marketplace, all of these aesthetic considerations must be made. Therefore, it is important to use specific colors and imagery in order to strengthen the brand’s market presence and thus increase overall company profits.


If one thing is for certain, it is that the Chinese market is rapidly changing in light of the increasingly global market place. As a result, not only are foreign markets changing to adapt to the Chinese marketplace needs, the Chinese marketplace, and consumer, are likewise adapting and changing to meet the needs of the global market. For instance, the economic boom in China’s urban areas is creating a new consumer culture where the consumer has more disposable income to work with. This itself has effected consumer preferences and patterns within the Chinese marketplace. The general result is that a more sophisticated Chinese consumer is emerging and foreign companies need to market to their sophisticated needs while at the same time marketing to the general population’s needs.

Therefore, the most effective way for a company to build a strong brand name in the rapidly emerging Chinese market is to adapt itself to the rapidly changing Chinese culture. To do this, it is important that the foreign company create a local presence and thus shed some of the “foreign corporation” reputation away. This can be done by hiring local staff and cooperating with local business professionals in developing a marketing and branding strategy.

The bottom line is, despite the numerous challenges that the Chinese market presents, a company an be successful if they spend the time and resources necessary to gain an in-depth understanding of the local culture and the Chinese consumer’s attitudes and thus become prepared to cope with the many unexpected intricacies of the Chinese marketplace.


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