China is an economic superpower, and its digital economy is the only serious global competitor to Silicon Valley. Its economic power can be viewed with respect, admiration or envy, but at the same time among us Germans there is an increasing mood of concern. After all, China seeks to be a world leader in not only the spheres of business and technology, but also those of politics and culture. However, fear is not the best advisor. Brand experience agency Avantgarde has been operating successfully in the Chinese market for 15 years. Here is an alternative perspective on the subject of China.
To compare Germany’s key figures with those of China is to fall at the first hurdle. China’s culture is so much older than ours, the country so much bigger and the economy so much more dynamic that we can only lose out in quantitative comparisons. The second pitfall is the German fear-driven hypothesis that sooner or later the country will no longer need Western brands. Many believe that due to national pride the Chinese will only buy abroad until their domestic industries have developed equivalent brands. It is important to avoid these two thought patterns which are all too common in Germany. They hold us back and cause us to forget the many strong brands and products we have developed.
It’s true that the Chinese are proud of their culture and nation, and this is indeed reflected in their shopping habits. Huawei would appear to be a more natural choice for them than Samsung or Apple. Nevertheless, a fascination for global brands exists in Beijing and Shanghai, just as it does in Paris and Berlin. The reason for this lies in the brands’ DNA: they are not weakened by competition, but strengthened by it. Provided they remain distinctive, offer added value and are well managed they will gain the respect of Chinese customers, who are very well attuned to these traits.
These include the sporting goods market and the luxury segment which, despite all the disruptive energy and enormous sums of money China is investing, will probably need another 10 to 20 years to catch up with Europe. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake for a brand to stay too long in the comfort zone of over-reliance on an established image. China demands improvement on a daily basis, and expects the same level of ambition from its foreign partners. This applies not only to the outstanding brand experience, but also to sensitivity in communication. Effective management of these factors will ensure future success in China.
Chinese transportation technology, for example, is legendary: it takes only 4.5 hours to get from Shanghai to Beijing by train. In the US it takes 19 hours to travel a comparable distance between New York and Chicago. This remarkable rate is mirrored in the rapid development of China’s classic retail sector. We still have a lot to learn here, but we mustn’t let it overwhelm us. It would be better to confidently emphasize the virtues for which we are valued in China: a sense of responsibility, the ability to work in a team, creativity and an understanding of complex processes.
After 15 years of agency operations in China we have come to know the country, at least to some extent, and we have closely observed its development with fascination and curiosity. We are convinced that Europe and China still have a lot to learn from each other. There are some things which we may never agree on, and our understanding of the rule of law, democracy and privacy may not always match. However, we share the same global economic and technological ecosystem, and for this reason we would like to see a new and improved attitude towards China in Germany. An attitude that has always formed the foundations of progress and innovation: curiosity instead of fear. We see China as a challenge, not a threat. If we learn to understand the Chinese better, we will have nothing to fear from China.