The saying “a slow boat to China” means something that takes way too long to accomplish. More and more, however, that expression doesn’t match reality. The Chinese market is an increasingly attractive market for U.S. firms and the smart ones are moving there quickly.
Here is what I found in The CMO Survey (August-2012). In response to the question, “Which international market is your highest revenue growth,” 21.5% of CMOs responded with China. This is up from 16% reported just six months ago (The CMO Survey, February-2012). In response to the follow-up question, “Considering this international market, by what percent did your sales revenue increase in the last 12 months,” CMOs reported a whopping 51.5% increase! Here is a list of some of the strategies that seem to be paying off when selling to and in China.
- Localize products (somewhat). In the fall, Häagen-Dazs sells ice cream moon cakes in order to celebrate the mid-Autumn Festival. Mid-Autumn Festival is an important day for the Chinese, marked by family reunions and gift-giving. Eating and gifting moon cakes is an important part of the tradition. Häagen-Dazs mooncakes can be eaten in shops or can be bought in gift boxes. The company also sells coupons, which many to companies give employees as gifts for the festival. Häagen-Dazs also offers an “ice cream hot pot” which is a special treat for small groups or parties. The hot pot is a big palette of different flavored ice creams and a pot of chocolate sauce. In another example, KFC derives almost a third of its total company revenues from China through its 2000 outlets across the country. KFC localizes by introducing dishes that match Chinese customers’ tastes. Two examples are the Beijing Chicken roll with sea food sauce (similar to Beijing duck, a traditional Chinese dish) and Spicy Diced Chicken (resembling a popular Sichuan-style dish). Both Häagen-Dazs and KFC are big global brands that bring status, quality, and exclusivity to Chinese consumers. At the same time, they have localized some of their offerings to fit Chinese consumers’ lifestyle, tastes, and preferences. The appropriate balance of standardization and localization should be thought through for each brand and its customers. A good example of a high level of localization is Home Depot. As reported in the Wall Street Journal last week, Home Depot learned that the slogan “You can do it, we can help” or more recently “You can do it” wasn’t selling among Chinese consumers who don’t embrace the do-it-yourself culture common among Americans. Instead, as noted by WSJ, Chinese consumers prefer “Do-It-for-Me” which means different products (that require less work from the customer) and additional services (that are sold with home improvement products).