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Talking Business: Taking Western fashion East

With 30 million new Chinese consumers making their first online purchase each year, the scope is very real for brands that develop robust strategies. But blind faith in numbers alone won’t work, says Jonathan Smith, founder and managing director of China-specialist online branding and creative agency Hot Pot Digital.

Well-established brands can often be seen making rookie errors in China, particularly around New Year. All too often, product design takes place at global headquarters, where Westernised versions of Chinese clichés are developed by product teams, without the requisite market experience.

Among the worst of these includes a misstep from a well-known British luxury brand, which issued a New Year scarf with the character “福” (fú), meaning wealth and prosperity. Unfortunately for the brand, the character was embroidered the correct way up, instead of upside down – a well-known traditional symbol that carries the meaning of “wealth will arrive”.

The result was a significant backlash on social media, with fashion influencers and consumers alike weighing in to reprimand the established brand for failing to understand the most basic tenets of Chinese culture.

Localisation also needs to be done with due care and attention. Bottega Veneta decided to go through a lengthy copywriting process in order to create a Chinese brand name. The brand tried to imbue each of their three-character name with a whole range of associations – lyrical, pictorial and with relevance to their original name.

The result was a jumbled mess, holding few positive associations for Chinese and ended up sounding like a cut-price manicurist tucked away in one of Beijing’s labyrinthine shopping malls. As this new name was pushed out across social media, consumer backlash was immediate and violent. With many previous die-hard fans saying they would never touch the brand again.

M-commerce is seeing faster adoption in China than anywhere else in the world, due in large part to advanced integration with China’s leading social media platforms. With over 650 million active users, WeChat dominates the social media landscape, blurring instant messaging, social media, email marketing, m-commerce, payment and app functionality. It’s where Chinese consumers communicate, browse, shop, book taxis, and live life.

As such it’s crucial to offer a compelling view of your brand and build high-quality communities on WeChat, etc. You can also link these communities directly to ecommerce efforts in a way that Western platforms simply don’t allow.

Careful selection and engagement of key opinion leaders is crucial in China too. Celebrity ambassadors are the most notable influencers of purchase decision, but fashion brands need not shell out for actress and singer Fan Bingbing or actor and singer Deng Chao in order to win consumer affections.

China’s top-tier fashion bloggers are arguably some of the world’s most influential, with key players like Han Huo Huo and Gogoboi Ye Si boasting millions of followers and offering targeted, significant reach for your brand. If you need to announce your brand’s arrival in China, this is a great place to start.

When managed correctly, even mid-level bloggers with tens of thousands of followers also help kickstart for positive word-of-mouth, deliver reach and exert direct influence on fashion consumers’ purchase decisions.

It’s important to remember that there is no magic formula for success in the Chinese market, but successful fashion labels have typically leveraged the right mix of localised messaging, engaging social media content and judicious use of influencers at an early stage.



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