The evolution of brand “China” in Asia
When I was growing up in the Philippines, our neighbor to the north China was hard to ignore because of its size. In the 70s and 80s, Filipinos knew that China quietly supported communist insurgents who stirred political fervor and often conducted violent attacks, especially in the southern part of the country. It was during this time that the U.S. supported Marcos’s administration (and turned a blind eye on the questionable policies) mainly because it held communist support in the country under control. Although Asian countries like the Philippines hardly heard directly from and about China, there was a perceived potential threat because of its anti-democracy ideology and authoritarian government.
China is still a communist country at its core, but things have changed. Starting in the 80s, China used the charm offensive to win over their Asian neighbors by providing aid and engaging in more diplomatic activities. Because of its efforts to tear down fences between itself and its neighbors, a lot of people in Asia now see China’s growing power as an opportunity instead of a threat with a chance to earn global attention and respect for the whole region. The country started building up soft power in the region, often much to the chagrin of the U.S. Analyst believe that the Philippine government’s decision to not renew the U.S. military bases in the country was a sign of its optimistic view that China no longer poses a significant military threat in the region.
Then in the late 90s and early 2000s, China established its reputation for providing cheap labor for global manufacturers. The country’s reputation morphed from the scary neighbor to the civil neighbor then to the “Wal-Mart” next door—on one hand, you’re glad they are there to provide very affordable products, on the other hand, they’re taking away business from the smaller Asian countries, who also offer cheap labor. However, while the U.S. soft power in the region may be slipping, China’s influence and role in Asia is growing.
Now, with the help of technology and social media, China’s “brand” in Asia and around the world is changing once again. The country is now becoming the hotbed of social networking sites fueled by its very active, chatty netizens. About 221 million Chinese have blogs, 176 million Chinese connect via social networking system (SNS) with their “real” friends and online networks, and 117 million connect anonymously via bulletin board system (BBS). These SNS and BBS online tools are ripe for marketers because these are where consumers talk about products and services.
The Chinese people are not only connecting with each other, they are bonding online with the brands they like. Around 26% of Chinese consumers initiate dialogue about products, 29% comment, 51% are downloading branded applications to their phones and 43% are ‘friending’ brands through company’s sites and SNS tools such as Renren and Kaixin001. Products’ success are often defined by how people talk about them online.
Not even banning the western-developed social networking sites has slowed down China’s social networking revolution. With its tech savvy and entrepreneurial youth, there are a number of strong, more interactive SNS sites that offer the Chinese people a chance to interact, comment and socialize online.
When launching an online marketing campaign in China, companies should make sure they engage customers and enable sharing, dialoguing and commenting on their site. They should also measure success by brand engagement, not just by the number of people they reach through their campaigns.
Marketers should also pay attention to the new influential role China plays in Asia, especially when it comes to consumer electronics. Although Asian countries are very different culturally and politically, hi-tech companies such as LG and Dell can parlay the online brand relationships and campaigns they have built in China to market to other countries in the continent. Just 30 years ago, China was a country the whole continent didn’t want to hear from, now they’re the country Asian netizens look up to and marketers cannot afford to ignore.