Thursday, August 28, 2008

Simply the Best

Only the best is good enough in China. On asking a Chinese how many medals China had won 5 days into the Games, the answer was 17. Impressed as I was, I asked my contact how many of these were gold. Gold? Oh, all of them! In total they had won some 40 medals, but apparently only the gold count. That should help to explain the attitude of the heavy weight who recently won bronze, only to throw it to the ground in discontentment. This strategy of course led only to disqualification and a loss of the medal altogether.

The quest for the absolute best also goes for marketing. In our European home base, one of our most popular services is helping companies identify their unique selling proposition and positioning, and to help them differentiate themselves from their competition. Basic marketing strategy, right? Segment, target, position. Be unique.

Not right. Offering to help a Chinese brand differentiate itself will never work. Chinese don’t want to be different, even if it is in a relevant and sustainable way, tailored to a specific target audience. This target audience in turn also doesn’t want a different product or service, tailored to its needs.

Chinese want the best. Simply the best. And if this means copying a great idea, only to make it even better, so be it. As one China-connoisseur once put it, there is no merit to be gained by being innovative.

This helps explain why all premium brands, be it Kohler toilet seats, Garmin navigation devices or Pepsi cola, swear by testimonials for their advertising. Do we see any originality here? Any great consumer insights? Any right-on positioning? No. All we see is repetition of the same great idea, letting a famous person tell the world how good your product is. But who’s asking for originality anyway?

Catherine Crevels works for the Belgian marketing consulting firm The House of Marketing out of its Shanghai office.

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