Brands Day offers a chance to shine

By Mike Bastin | China Daily Europe | Updated: 2017-05-19 10:06

International partners can join effort to celebrate and promote shift in business culture and celebrate much-loved Chinese products

May 10 marked the very first Chinese Brands Day, an exciting government initiative that aims to publicize and promote Chinese brands that are independently owned. In particular, the aim is to highlight the incredibly interesting and emotionally rich stories that these brands have to tell, such as the deluxe Chinese roast duck restaurant chain Quan Ju De and the traditional Chinese medicine provider Tong Ren Tang, which date back to 1864 and 1669, respectively.

While the Belt and Road Initiative, which will transform trading routes between Asia and Europe, and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, now the major financial engine of economic growth across the region, quite rightly take center stage, the importance of Chinese Brands Day should not be underestimated.

Brands Day offers a chance to shine

Transitional economies such as China, tackling the challenges of moving from a producer of commodity products to an environment of investment in high-quality, premium branded goods and services, need to produce competitive domestic brands, but this often takes longer than expected.

Chinese companies across most industrial sectors are still not driven by a brand-oriented culture and focus too much on the short term and on low costs and low prices.

Chinese Brands Day represents, therefore, another important step on the road toward a change in Chinese business culture where a company's brands, and not its costs, drive decision-making.

A national brands day should plant an important seed inside the mindset of Chinese business leaders and managers.

For European businesses keen to embark on and continue partnerships with Chinese companies, Chinese Brands Day should also result in an adjustment of their approach. No longer are Chinese companies simply sitting, passive partners who lower overall costs. Instead, Chinese partners will be focusing much more on their company's corporate brand and product brand development.

Doing business in China will require much more consideration of the Chinese partner's long-term business and its brand architecture, too.

European companies, therefore, need to consider co-branding alliances with Chinese partners much more and should even promote these each year during Chinese Brands Day.

Brands Day offers a chance to shine

European partners should also see Chinese Brands Day, to be celebrated each year on May 10, as an opportunity to learn more about China and its history and culture in particular.

Brand China is changing with the likes of global high-tech giants Huawei and Lenovo blazing a brilliant trail of high quality across the world. But Chinese also possess thousands of lesser-known traditional brands that simply ooze nostalgia and charm. Quan Ju De and Tong Ren Tang lead this pack, but there are many more, and Chinese Brands Day provides an excellent opportunity for them to tell their story.

European companies can not only learn more about Chinese brands through Chinese Brands Day, but at the same time they can learn more about Chinese culture and history going back generations.

Famous Chinese brands that have hundreds of years of history and that draw on nostalgia include Zhang Xiaoquan, a traditionally handcrafted scissors brand from East China's historic Hangzhou, capital city of Zhejiang province. The story behind Zhang Xiaoquan paints a vivid picture of Chinese entrepreneurship over the years, something that any European business partner would find fascinating and very helpful when establishing and maintaining Sino-European business alliances.

Chinese cosmetics fashion brand Shanghai Vive can also boast a fascinating history closely entwined with Chinese culture over the years.

European companies could also pay respect and thanks to their Chinese brand partners by acknowledging the importance of Chinese Brands Day. While it is unlikely that any grand ceremony or celebration will take place there every May 10, the date will be publicized and media attention will be generated.

European companies with Chinese business partners could, therefore, use May 10 to celebrate the contribution made by their Chinese business partners and respect the fact that their Chinese business partners require brand development and management in exactly the same way as any European company.

Chinese Brands Day does represent a significant step forward, but more is needed. It is not nearly enough to set up a day of national, and even international, recognition that spotlights Chinese home-grown brands and showcases their history and development.

Traditional Chinese brands, many of which remain under State ownership, need to change quite considerably if they are to regain and retain competiveness, especially if there are any international expansion plans.

So, where to start for the rejuvenation of Chinese traditional brands?

Where there is a need for a major change in business culture that runs right through the entire organization, it is imperative that Chinese companies appoint a new strategic brand manager.

Transforming an entire business culture and many - traditional Chinese brands still need this quantum change - requires major adjustment to the organizational structure.

The appointment of a strategic brand manager who reports directly to the top level of management will inject the entire organization with brand-oriented thinking and provide a path toward modern, professional brand management that drives the entire company.

European partners could also help with this change toward a brand management business culture inside their Chinese partners and possibly put forward a temporary strategic brand manager from inside their own organization.

Branding and brand management is so often, sadly and simplistically, seen as little more than creative marketing promotion and advertising in particular. This approach is even more likely to dominate if those responsible for branding and brand management sit inside the marketing or sales and marketing department. Placing the brand management team outside the marketing department with a direct reporting line to the chief executive officer allows for a more strategic approach that can bring together all departments and the entire workforce.

However, European and Chinese co-brand partners should note that modernization should not lead to any rejection of traditional Chinese working practices or use of traditional Chinese cultural associations. Traditional Chinese arts and crafts techniques, still very much behind many traditional Chinese brands such as Zhang Xiaoquan scissors, should not only be preserved, but allowed to flourish.

Also, European companies should become better acquainted with traditional Chinese culture and the wealth of emotional brand association opportunities this provides. Traditional Chinese brands should also not confuse modernization with a rejection of traditional cultural associations.

Chinese consumers, and indeed more European consumers, value very highly the forms of brand association that evoke feelings of nostalgia. Chinese history holds a unique place inside Chinese consumers' hearts and minds, and always will, and many of these traditional Chinese brands are indelibly wrapped inside an intricate web of nostalgic stories and events. This should not only continue but should be promoted more prominently.

Ironically, it is Chinese traditional brands, with their knowledge of certain aspects of Chinese history and culture, that are best placed to present a modern-day competitive brand image, both domestically and internationally. But European co-brand partners can also assist with this change in business culture.

Indeed, Chinese industry generally can learn a lot from these traditional Chinese brands and their association with aspects of ancient Chinese culture. All Chinese brands can benefit from similar emotional associations.

Any current or potential Sino-European business partnership should now be seen as a brand partnership, and Chinese National Brand Day should be seen as an annual date when co-brand development is reviewed and plans put forward for further development of both the European and Chinese brand.

Chinese Brands Day is here to stay, and European companies need to mark this date in their company diaries right now and celebrate annually with their Chinese co-brand partners.

The author is a visiting professor at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing and a senior lecturer at Southampton University. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

(China Daily European Weekly 05/19/2017 page13)

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