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January 2009
Around the World: China

Foreign Brand Expansion into China

by Dr. Priscilla Y. L. Chan

Dr. Priscilla Y. L. Chan is an academic faculty member of the Institute of Textiles and Clothing at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. She is a member of Beta Gamma Sigma, the honor society serving business programs accredited by AACSB International — the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. She received her Ph.D. in brand marketing and management from the Marketing Group of Aston Business School and a M.Phil. in apparel product development from the Institute of Textiles and Clothing at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Her research interests are brand equity management, brand positioning, the luxury fashion market, international fashion retailing and trade fairs, country-of-origin, specialized markets, and industrial districts. She has supervised two successful Ph.D. recipients, one in Beijing, China, and another in Florence, Italy, and is currently supervising another two Ph.D. candidates.


China, with a population of 1.3 billion, is a large and diversified potential market. Many brands are interested in entering this vast land of tradition and mystery. We have both retail brands and industrial brands in our industry. Common to both types of brands is a very basic and important but usually overlooked point: make your targeted audience aware of your existence.

For industrial brands, we may use a brand of fiber products as an example. One of the main channels to make the brand known is trade fairs. There is a lot of preparation work to be done. You will need to tell your audience the special characteristics and properties of your product and provide justifications as to why they should buy your product. The Chinese people are eager to learn and be exposed to different types of information, and it is important to make your target audience understand.

With industrial products, you need not only show the products to your potential customers, you also need to educate them on how to use your products, suggesting different possible applications, providing technical support in the process of manufacturing, and other supporting services. For example, samples of products manufactured using your product can be shown, technical manufacturing sheets and lab-test reports on properties can be provided, or technical seminars can be arranged. Think about the different stakeholders in our industry. You may want to provide color trend forecasts, fashion style forecasts, show actual garments produced using your fiber, arrange fashion shows, etc., in addition to showcasing the product’s technology.

Branding is a long-term investment; it takes time and is very expensive. One of the most effective ways to make your targeted audience aware of your existence is to collaborate with universities. Organize product development projects or competitions with universities and invite students to participate; arrange seminars, visits, and workshops with the students; and have all the results showcased in trade fairs. You may have exhibitions of the products produced by the students during workshops, display photos of the various activities in your booth, or you may have fashion shows of the collections designed by the students using your material during the trade fair. China is a huge country, and students are the future of our industry. By collaborating with universities in different provinces and cities, you can easily make your brand known to different parts of China. During the trade fair and your collaborative activities, you can also distribute small useful gifts with your brand name, such as notepads, recycled bags, or pens, as souvenirs to enhance your audience’s memories.

For retail brands, collaborative activities and competitions with universities in China are also an effective means to make your brand known to different parts of China, particularly when university students are your targeted customers. You can also have road shows, sponsor celebrities in China, or advertise in billboards, newspapers, and magazines. The name of your brand is important. Many people in China do not speak foreign languages fluently, so companies have to ensure their name can be pronounced and remembered by their targeted customers. You may decide to have a Chinese name and special packaging in Chinese characters.

It is also important to think about the positioning of your brand and the extent of localization. Because Chinese people are heavily influenced by cultural norms and values, it is worthwhile for companies to understand and appreciate cultural differences and plan their strategies accordingly. Forms of market entry, product lines, distributional channels, and other logistical arrangements are areas worth visiting and paying special attention to. Many companies have selected Hong Kong as a location to open flagship stores as "windows" to Mainland China and Southeast Asia. It is worthwhile to note that business models previously successful elsewhere may not be directly applicable in China, so be prepared to face challenges.