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Adapting for China? Winning Brands Don’t Seek to be Understood, but to Understand

Modernization does not equal Westernization. This is the fundamental lesson that global brands are slowly (and sometimes painfully) learning as they attempt to build popularity in China today. Global brands often conflate the two concepts, and the missing link is a deep cultural understanding of consumer purchase motivations.

Well-established global brands often underestimate the importance of this. Decisions are driven by a lingering temptation to rest on the laurels of legacy, yet the path to success in China necessitates humble acceptance that the company is entering the market on the back foot.

Compared to other markets, China is indeed a tough nut to crack.

The world of social media is governed by new powers; Xiao Hong Shu, WeChat, and Douyin, among others, replace the global superpowers of Facebook and Google. Protection laws may not have the clout brands are accustomed to, as Chanel recently found out upon losing a court case to a jewelry seller claiming his products emblazoned with the signature ‘double c’ were not an attempt to copy the iconic brand.

Language barriers and legal hurdles aside, one of the most significant and yet consistently underestimated reasons why global brands struggle in China is simply the cultural difference. Specifically, many fail to acknowledge that consumers in the Chinese market often have entirely different mindsets and motivations to those in the West.

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