The narrative about Chinese companies is changing. But their new story has not yet been properly articulated. This needs to change.
The old narrative is that China has become the world’s factory. Vast manufacturing cities have sprung up, with companies producing components or products for western brands or no-name low cost items for a global marketplace.
However, as an article in Forbes by Wade Shepard put it recently:
“The game has now changed for many of China’s manufacturers; it’s no longer merely about production but innovative design, signature products, and brand identity.”
Great! But this reality is not yet visible to much of the world, in part because the story of ‘made in China’ has not been re-defined. It is up to individual brands to change that.
Here are three simple questions they need to answer in order to articulate a new story for themselves to affect perceptions about what they represent.
Before you can write your story, you need to fully think through the audience you are trying to interest. This will of course be different for a B2B (business-to-business) firm than for a B2C (business-to-customer) one, although even with B2C companies, having a great story for the distributors or local business partners will be important.
Customer personas can help, as they force you to think of the audience as individual people, not as organisations. Let me give you an example: I was in discussion with a Chinese manufacturer of a specialist piece of camera equipment. They were simply looking for a distributor to get their product into shops, but had given no thought in their communication to the nature of the buyer. All of their collateral online and offline was very technical – typical of a technology firm.
I insisted we consider exactly who was the buyer – and of course the focus was on ‘prosumers’ – i.e. consumers who take photography very seriously. This leads to a very different discussion about the brand story, both for these customers and the retailers who supply them.
Having mapped out the people we need to engage, we need to think a lot about their agenda. What is motivating them? What are their priorities in the area of need that we are serving?
Research can help this stage, but some of it may already exist. In the case of business buyers, we can ask them directly as part of the early engagement process with customers or partners.
This is not a question about what we do but how we do it. In the case of Chinese companies, this may be the most critical question to answer, because there might be a need to tackle a negative perception of quality or creativity. The way to do this is to define very carefully what is special, different or simply great about the way in which the company delivers its product or service.
This may, for example, be to do with the innovative technology involved, or the high quality manufacturing environment, or the quality of the people whom the customer will encounter.
Defining the story
The cut-through story for any brand is where ‘why’ and ‘how’ intersect – in other words, it’s where the customers’ focus coincides with the company’s greatness.
At this point, we can identify the key elements of the story – what I call the narrative themes. These should be two or three big ideas that underpin all sales, marketing and communications and are sharply expressed in language which works for the target audience.
This is where Chinese companies still sometimes fall short: translating their excellent technical story into something which is well expressed for a non-Chinese market. When they get this right, they can carefully articulate a story that will change perceptions and build new distinctive Chinese brands around the world.