A clear and unique brand messaging is key to successfully marketing your brand in China, yet it is often neglected as global marketers rush to get their products to the hands of consumers. Shortcuts are often taken by directly translating their global messaging and throwing money into digital marketing, which only leads to disappointing campaign results. As a Global Marketing Manager, it’s important to take pause and assess the effectiveness of your local brand messaging before rolling out massive digital or PR campaigns.
Before we dive in, it’s important to understand why you need a brand message for China.
Brand message is the essence of your brand in words, it’s the value propositions statements of your products and services, and the language & tone you use to speak to your target audience. The brand messages are what will go to your local website, E-commerce platforms and across all your communications channels.
Many established brands have their existing brand message in place. However, a major pitfall many global brands make is directly translating their global messaging strategy to China. This is often due to a lack of an understanding of the complexity of this market or rushed efforts to put their products on the market.
The fact is, brand messaging is not a “one-size-fits-all” for every market, and certainly not for the Chinese market, which has a unique consumer culture and completely different marketing ecosystem than the West.
In this article, we will share the key elements in creating a successful brand messaging strategy to help you get your marketing right from the beginning. These key elements have been our guiding principles that have helped many of our clients create their successful brand messaging strategy in China.
1. Understand Your Audience
First, it’s important to understand who you are talking to and what you want them to take away from your message. Conducting a research and survey to understand their pain points, motivators, consumption habits, and buying behaviors is a critical first step. Chances are that you will find the consumer insights are very different from other regions due to the unique consumer culture in China, especially for consumer products.
For B2B brands however, although the audience across different countries might share similar traits, there are usually multiple layers of external stakeholders they need to reach with different messages. Understanding different target audiences and creating tailored messages speaking to each of them is important to ensure your messaging is effective.
2. Find the Right Balance Between Globalization and Localization
Localizing your brand messaging too much that you will risk losing your brand integrity, holding on too much to global consistency that your brand message might not fit well in China.
One example that a brand went “off-balance” is Fendi’s 2019 “Baguette is Back” commercial campaign. Immediately after the video campaign was launched, it received massive negative consumer feedback on its nonsense messages and the corny film creative. What Fendi did wrong is that they took the same creative ideas from its global commercial video and made it into a Chinese one without adapting the message to the China market. Although “This is Baguette” is widely-known among the western audiences, it does not resonate with the Chinese consumers. And the retro film setting made the video seen even corny instead of “90s vintage cool” impression the film intended to convey.
A general rule of thumb to always test your message among a small group of target consumers before its official roll-out instead of letting one side of the team make the final call. It's also important to establish a collaborative global marketing team that both sides of opinions are heard and well-respected. When hiring an agency partner to develop your message, it's important to look for agency with cross-culture background that has the ability to understand both cultures.
3. Define Your Language & Tone
Another important element in creating an effective messaging is to define the language and tone of your messaging. Chinese consumers value emotional connections and tend to be attracted to brands that speak in their familiar language and tone. A common mistake some new brands in China made is that they neglect this step by directly translating their global message without articulating what language and tone to use in their local brand message.
China has 7 dialect families and 129 dialects; though some might be similar to another in the way of expression, others can be largely different. For example, Cantonese and Mandarin are considered as two different dialect families and have different ways of writing and speaking. If you are trying to connect with a Cantonese audience from Guangdong province, you might want to use their way of language expression. In addition, the language Gen Z uses could be also very different from millennials.
To develop brand messages that resonate with specific target audiences or even evoke emotional connections, marketers should really take into consideration the language and tone they use in their messaging.
4. Develop A Brand Message House
Message house is a wonderful way to create a cohesive and powerful messaging. It starts with an over-arching positioning statement and goes down to your different core messages and then then proves these points support each other. This works particularly well if you have multiple product lines and target audiences by having different messages tailored to each different audiences or products, yet ensuring they share a consistent central messaging theme.
Although a message house is used universally across countries, it’s important to have your local marketing manager or agency partner use this method to create your message. The message house can be shared across your local teams and agencies to help them understand the brand and your message clearly.
5. Create A Compelling Brand Narrative
When you have your message house developed, now it is time to put all pieces together to create a compelling brand narrative. Brand narrative or brand story is used to give a context of your brand and let your audiences know who you are and why you exist. Your story shouldn’t be copied from your global message, instead, it must be tailored to China’s market. To create a compelling brand narrative for China, think about answering below questions:
What do you do? Where is your brand from? – Your background
Why should Chinese consumers care about you? – Your credentials and differentiators
What do you offer? – Your product/service offering, tailored to Chinese consumers
What does your brand stand for? – Confidence/Beauty/Quality/Status,.etc
Once you can answer these questions in your brand narrative, then you will have a compelling brand story that clearly speaks for your brand and products. Your brand narrative can be used in verbatim in your Chinese website, your e-commerce copy, social media platforms, and media articles,.etc.
6. Keep Your Team Aligned with Brand Messaging Guideline
Finally, as your brand grows in China, you will likely need to manage bigger teams and more channel and agency partners. This is when you start to lose control of your brand and your messaging starts to get diluted. A good way to maintain your message consistency is develop a brand messaging guideline to keep your internal and external teams aligned on a consistent messaging.
The brand messaging guideline is a standard document that captures everything from your message house, your business vision and mission, and your brand narratives. It sets the language and tone of your messaging and includes do’s and don’ts for your agency and channel partners to follow.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to develop an effective brand messaging in China, you can book a free China messaging assessment with our skilled Chinese brand expert.