Photo: Ray Ally
When most people talk about China, they often think of it as one country. After all Mao Tse-tung and the communist party have spent the last 60 years trying to unite the country. Creating one party, one political system and introduced one language, Putonghua (common speech) to achieve this goal.
However, for those of us that live and work in China, we think of it as being made up of smaller countries called provinces. Many of these are bigger than European nations, with far larger populations and have their own language dialect, customs and traditions.
When foreign brands first came to China they had a global “one brand fits all” approach to the market. Many of them learnt through calamity that this approach didn’t work. To succeed in China they had to tailor their brand positioning and products to suit a diverse Chinese consumer.
What really illustrates this scale and diversity is when you look at a map showing China’s topology. You begin to understand how nature has played its part in separating China and diving it into a country of two halves. The prosperous and developed lowlands of the East compared with the undeveloped and mountainous desert regions of the West.
On a macro level this may be an over simplistic view of the country. So you need to look deeper at a micro level to really understand the diversity of the region that is the size of Europe. As each province has its own people with their unique tastes and requirements for products and brands.
One trends that is having a big impact on the landscape is the rapid urbanisation of China. It now has more than 160 cities with populations of over 1 million and 10 megacities of more than 10 million. This urbanisation is creating a growing wealth across the country, which has a big impact on how people perceive brands.
At the low end of the market, consumers are enticed by quality and value proposition brands, that give added value and better results. The middle classes are still seeking aspirational brands with deliver higher performance to improve their lives. While at the top end the wealthy elite still use brands to show off and display their wealth and social status.
One thing is clear; that as China develops in the next 10 years these differences will become more polarised. To be successful in the future, brands will have to cater for a more urban and affluent population. But with more regional focus on the diversity of the consumers in China’s rapidly changing brandscape.