Home Consumer 15 China experts on how to make the most of the China opportunity

15 China experts on how to make the most of the China opportunity

From staying agile to 'leaving your ego at the door', brand bosses from Molton Brown, Pernod Ricard and more share their insights on how to succeed in the China market

by Robynne Tindall
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For many UK brands, entering and succeeding in China has been daunting, but almost all will tell you it’s also been incredibly rewarding. During CBBC’s China Consumer 2023 event, we heard from those on the front lines, the CEOs and managing directors with first-hand experience of the market – here’s what they said

In the run-up to China Consumer 2023, CBBC was thrilled to introduce China Voices. Reflecting the expansive, diverse nature of China and its consumers, our extensive and varied panel of China specialists and UK brands shared their exclusive insights and unique experiences in the China market.

China Voices put our speakers in the spotlight, who shared first-hand advice on how to navigate China’s sophisticated marketplace – from achieving success and satisfying your China consumers’ demands through branding and brand aesthetics, to targeting young consumers, communicating your unique brand identity, and diversifying your retail space through concept stores.

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Read on to learn more about our speakers’ views on the China market in 2023 and how brands can make the most of the opportunities on offer:

“Borders are finally open in China, which has caused a tremendous push for companies to green light their China projects. If you have the ability, then travel to China and see how it has changed, what is the energy and the vibe.

One of the most powerful tools to be successful in China is knowledge. You must educate yourself on current information. Being on the ground in China will help you to get up to date with the current trends and will help formulate your China strategy.

Speak to as many people as possible and gather your intel in the form of stats, research and trends. This information and knowledge will shape your business’ future in China and help you to make the right decisions for your company.”

Kristina Koehler-Coluccia, Head of Business Advisory, Woodburn Accountants & Advisors

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“China is leading a wave of digitalisation and product innovation. A million new ideas and trends can happen in a short period of time.

Embrace the change. And it’s okay if you can’t predict it because the greatest ideas originate from somewhere unknown. To make it happen, place trust in your business partners in China while remaining steadfast in upholding your brand’s core values.

That’s how Molton Brown has carried out its strategy, and we will continue to do this in the future.”

Ada Yang, Senior Market Manager of China, Molton Brown

“China is a long-term commitment, and it goes without saying, you need to fully research the landscape. Make sure that you differentiate your service and vision as there is a lot of competition in the market.

Consider and respect the nuances of the Chinese culture. Take time to understand the different demographics and the end consumers. This will require an agile approach.

Build strong and trusted relationships within China (on the ground) to facilitate the project and who can advise you on local regulations.”

Simon Mitchell, Co-Founder, Sybarite

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“The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the global political and economic order. It significantly impacted several sectors, including retail, tourism and hospitality.

Today, we need to learn how to thrive in the post-Covid era. Looking ahead, especially in the beauty retail industry, consumers are coming back to the offline market from online.

Consumers are looking for first-hand experiences and are seeking to connect with the external environment. Offline shopping is indispensable, and it is crucial for new global beauty brands to remember this when planning an omni-channel strategy.”

Grace Cheng, Head of Brand Business Development, Harmay

“Leave your ego at the door and localise your brand in China by understanding this very different ecosystem and the nuances of Chinese consumers.

Build the right, meaningful partnerships that will allow you to flourish long-term. Develop your own team through great commission and performance-based incentives.

Engage with influencers, both KOLs & KOCs from day one, and work with them to localise the best offering for the market.”

Benji Lamb, Director of China & South Asia, Vitabiotics

“Stay at the forefront of Chinese consumer insights and trends to ensure your brands and products remain relevant in this rapidly evolving market.”

Atul Chhaparwal, Managing Director, Diageo Greater China

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“Before entering the Chinese market, it is crucial to define your go-to-market strategy. Consider whether you want to explore the market independently, work with trading partners or distributors or explore other business models.

Additionally, evaluate whether your product offers a unique selling proposition (USP) that can stand out in the saturated Chinese market. Remember to approach the Chinese market while being as humble as possible. Despite being a recognised brand in your home country, you will start as an unknown brand in China. Set reasonable targets and adopt a step-by-step approach. Understand that success in China requires long-term investment rather than short-term gains.

Be mindful of the need for innovation and uniqueness to capture Chinese consumers’ attention. Lastly, be prepared for the challenges of building brand recognition and trust, as it takes time to establish yourself in the Chinese market. Approach the market with a long-term perspective, building relationships and adapting your strategy based on market feedback.”

Shlomi Mahfouda, Co-Founder & CEO, Up2China

“For UK consumer brands entering China, prioritising localisation is crucial. Brands need to adopt a “China for China” mindset by understanding consumer preferences, behaviours and regional diversity, whilst building trust and engagement.

However, don’t overlook offline engagement opportunities. Physical interaction is deeply ingrained in human nature. China is reimagining retail, not just revolutionising e-commerce.

Brands already in China are turning physical stores into immersive spaces and creating interactive brand experiences where brand value extends beyond the product. It’s important to find the right balance between understanding and adapting across all consumer touchpoints to succeed in China.”

Natalie Lowe, CEO & Founding Partner, The Orangeblowfish

“Localise your brand, communication, channels, content and partnerships. This is critical in a market that has strong pride in their culture and sophistication in their choices.”

Rachel Daydou, Partner, China Practice Europe, EY Fabernovel 

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“Entering China presents remarkable opportunities for UK brands, if they are able to genuinely connect with consumers across multiple touchpoints with local relevance.

First and foremost, products, branding and communication must be tailored to these consumers, reflecting local tastes, heritage and culture.

In addition, a localised digital approach will not only allow your marketing messages to penetrate, but also allow consumers to gain access to your products as they move seamlessly between the realms of social media and online marketplaces. Chinese consumers have a strong appetite for innovative and trending products, so be prepared to invest steadily in R&D.

Finally, to win in China, you need to continually evaluate your consumers, monitor any behavioural shifts to truly understand their needs and adapt your strategy accordingly.”

Liya Zhang, Vice President Marketing, Pernod Ricard Global Travel Retail

“China offers a lucrative market for brands due to its rich culture, tech-savvy consumers and advanced digital ecosystem. To successfully enter this market, brands must visit China to gain a deep understanding of its culture and engage with Chinese consumers directly.

Transparency in brand identity and a USP are crucial, as is maintaining consistency and frequency in social channels to establish brand equity, which requires time and effort. Collaborations with other brands can be beneficial in expanding a brand’s audience and capturing market share.

Building a loyal community and cultivating brand ambassadors are vital for driving growth and amplifying a brand’s voice. Moreover, it is important to involve internal teams in the China journey by exposing them to the market, culture and ecosystems, allowing them to better adapt and contribute to the brand’s success in the Chinese market.”

Ntola Obazee, Trading Director, Emma Bridgewater

“My advice would be for brands to properly do their research on China.

This research can be done either in-house or through a professional consultancy and should answer the following questions: How big is the potential for this product segment? Who are your competitors in market and how well are they doing? What makes them do well/not well? Who are your target consumers? How should you set up your pricing for China? Do you wish to grow your brand in China long-term and how much investment is required?

I do think that research includes coming to China and seeing the country and market for yourself. The China market is a big one but it is also a very competitive one. Success requires long-term nurturing.”

Ran Guo, Director, Consumer Economy China, China-Britain Business Council

“China is a very big and dynamic market. It has huge potential. However, it is also a very competitive one. To enter the market successfully, brands need a clear strategy. UK brands need to budget appropriate investment into the market and have a realistic timeframe.

More importantly, brands need to work with reliable partners who have on-the-ground practice. Today, Chinese customers are pursuing brands that can add value and so UK brands need to think carefully about what they are offering to consumers.”

Jason Cao, Vice President & Founder, Hainan Holdings (GDF) & DutyFreeExpert

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“Get your house in order!

You are about to enter one of the world’s largest consumer markets and that means you’re going to need IP, inventory, logistics and a forward-thinking attitude.”

Joy Isaacs, Founder & CEO, ARgENTUM apothecary

“Be aware that China has a very different culture of shopping. It is important that UK brands understand how Chinese consumers receive product information.

From language to payment method to user experience, UK brands need to do more than just sharing information about their online stores.”

Celine Tang, Retail & E-commerce Sector Lead, China-Britain Business Council

China Consumer 2023

This article was produced as part of a series for China Consumer 2023.

Learn more about CBBC’s flagship consumer event of 2023 here.

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