20 action points to achieve international export success
Start with the product, add insight, innovation, and rapid execution
01. Start with the product
BUILD THE BRAND...
Start with the product (or service). The product needs to meet the quality expectations of international consumers, and it needs to be different in ways that make it exciting and desirable to customers outside of China.
02 Build the brand
Focusing solely on the product, without a brand platform, goes only so far. It may work in a nearby market, but without a brand, exporting to new markets is like moving into an unfamiliar neighborhood. It is possible to make friends, but it takes a lot of time and effort. A well-known and differentiated brand increases the chances of a faster and warmer welcome.
03 Be Bold
Overseas expansion should be a key part of the strategic plan, an element of the company DNA, particularly for start-ups. The traditional expansion sequence required first succeeding domestically before exporting. That conventional wisdom is dated. The overseas market is ready for Chinese brands. Young people, in particular, associate Chinese brands with innovation and diversity of offering. Many Chinese competitors are moving quickly to realize this opportunity.
04 Project leadership
Gaining awareness is an important accomplishment. But it is not enough for brands that aspire to differentiate and project leadership in overseas markets. That requires explaining the brand’s core values and describing, in a relevant and authentic way, how the brand improves people’s lives.
05 Collect a bonus
Brand success abroad can raise brand stature at home. It is a dividend earned by overseas success, which Chinese consumers view as validation that the brand meets international quality expectations and is trustworthy.
ADAPT TO THE MARKET
06 Gain insight
Consumer receptivity to Chinese brands varies by country market and by category. Identifying those variations, and understanding why they exist, helps to shape export priorities and focus marketing investment most efficiently. Influencing each audience requires first understanding their values, desires, customs, attitudes, and preferences.
07 Identify local partners
Accelerate the understanding and penetration of country markets by finding partners that best meet the need for local knowledge and access. These relationships can take many forms, from strategic alliances to mergers and acquisitions.
08 Set ambitious goals
China’s successful exporters set ambitious goals that they pursue diligently and for the long-term, regardless of the inevitable quarter-to-quarter fluctuations. Overseas brand building takes time and patience. But it is cumulative. The investment in each market can help elevate the brand across all markets.
09 Hire local people
Hire local people with the right experience for key positions. They can do a good job of understanding the brand and communicating in ways that connect with local consumers.
10 Champion diversity
Recruit multicultural talent to demonstrate respect for others, and as an expression of global citizenship. A multiplicity of voices results in greater creativity, energy, and deeper local knowledge and insight.
11 Respect the rules
Every country has its own laws and rules and regulations for doing business. Follow the rules of the game; do not “game” the rules. Building a brand for the long term requires respecting standard business practices, not trying to subvert them.
INNOVATE, DIFFERENTIATE, COMMUNICATE...
Chinese brands are far along in the process of improving quality and shifting from imitation to innovation. But consumers outside of China have not gotten the message. More Chinese brands need to tell the innovation story. That chorus will raise the image of Brand China and help Chinese exporters overall.
Especially in established categories, Chinese brands have long met consumer needs in relevant ways. But as categories filled with competitors, many Chinese brands became less sharply differentiated. That disadvantage is compounded when brands expand to competitive markets abroad.
Chinese brands usually export only after they have built a successful brand with a proven communications strategy in China. Do not assume that the strategy will work to build awareness abroad. While the brand’s core values will remain constant, they need to be communicated in ways that resonate with the local audience.
15 Challenge the conventional
The approaches for introducing and promoting Chinese brands overseas do not necessarily need follow conventional communication approaches. A little non-conformity goes a long way for challenger brands that need to quickly make an impact and differentiate from the competition.
16 Go digital
Create comprehensive media plans based on how consumers use media in particular markets. Do not neglect TV and other traditional media, but broaden the media strategy as necessary. For example, outside of China digital and video communication, on sites like YouTube, is more common.
17 Reach young people
If young people think of Brand China at all, they probably associated it with stylish and affordable smart devices and other cool stuff. But through young people brands can influence older generations, the parents or grandparents who remember the China of cheap, low quality products.
18 Be confident
It may not always be necessary to advertise the brand’s Chinese provenance, but neither is it always useful to ignore it. In some categories a Chinese brand can be an advantage. In mobile gaming, Chinese brands signal design originality and a need for deep strategic thinking that many gamers desire.
EXECUTE WITH SPEED AND CARE...
19 Execute with speed
Chinese companies tend to move faster than western companies. One explanation is their relative youth. Many Chinese companies are still run by their founders. Western companies, in contrast, more typically are run by a later generation of family owners or by professional managers. Keep moving quickly. Speed is a competitive advantage.
20 Moderate with care
Many western companies are more systematized than Chinese companies. Too much systemization can create sluggish bureaucracy. But systems used well enable a company to move quickly while exercising control. Systems can simplify decisions and add useful knowledge. Adopt systems as appropriate, to avoid a competitive disadvantage.