Chinese manufacturers are increasingly looking west. They dream of broadening their horizon, of growing from an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) to an Own Brand Manufacturer (OBM) and selling their products in Europe and the US. About 90 per cent fail. “Their product is okay, but their brand is all wrong for the international market”, says Jan Rijkenberg, CEO of brand agency BSUR (Amsterdam, Shanghai). BSUR’s concepting service has provided several Chinese OBM’s with a brand that works outside China.
China’s strategy change from ‘Made in China’ to ‘Created in China’ has driven many OEMs to look for ways to reduce their dependence of Western brands. Market research leads them to the conclusion that they can compete in Europe and the US based on both their product quality and price. “Still, most attempts to conquer the international markets fail. According to Joel Backaler, author of ‘China Goes West’, nine out of ten have to give up for lack of success”, says Jan Rijkenberg. “Why? Their Chinese brand created no vibe in the market. Their logo was perceived as unattractive and even ‘cheap’. So was their packaging, promotion, everything. A waste of time and money.”
‘Concepting’ in seven languages
BSUR’s CEO wrote a book about how businesses can prevent costly failures like this. The book titled ‘Concepting’ was translated into seven languages – including Mandarin – and has one clear message. Rijkenberg: “New brands develop and prosper in new, different ways than we were used to. Before, the product or its features defined the brand. But a product and its qualities are easy to copy by competitors. A brand vision, a feeling and mentality is hard to beat or copy. The world – and certainly the west – has moved from ‘product brands’ to ‘concept brands’.”
In other words: Chinese manufacturers that want to be successful elsewhere need to associate their brand with emotions, like Apple and Nike did. “Their brand needs to radiate fun, freedom, happiness, care or whatever may be appropriate.”
BSUR created EI
Rijkenberg’s message has already convinced more than a handful of Chinese businesses. For Sainty, a well-known Nanjing-based manufacturer of child-related products like strollers, and seats, BSUR created EI. “An uncomplicated, sympathetic brand, with a positive vibe and a logo that is egg-shaped. We designed the new logo and brand from scratch and made sure it resonates well with the target audience of parents of 0 to 4 year olds”, Rijkenberg explains.
Another example is Sengled, a Chinese producer of LED products. “The manufacturer was successful in its OEM days, as it was one of IKEA’s suppliers. A change in strategy brought them to a trade fair in Germany, in an attempt to enter the European market. We spoke briefly about our ideas of ‘concepting’ and about what needed to be done to bring the Chinese Sengled brand to a higher international level. An hour later, we closed our deal. Two hours later, our Shanghai office received a call from Sengled to set up a meeting. From then on, things sped up, into high gear.”
Stand out in positive way
BSUR completely redesigned the brand, brand story, brand language, iconography, branding, logos, packaging et cetera. “Sengled’s brand now stands out in a positive way. Its LED-products, that include WiFi support, are now even available in the US Apple Store.”
Sengled is one of BSUR’s success stories. “It is an example of the successful way to bring Chinese brands to international markets. We continue to share our ‘concepting’ vision. I have given lectures at universities and business clubs. The book and the concept has turned out to be a great conversation starter. And: a great way to profile our own brand among Chinese OEMs that have a dream of becoming the next successful OBM that conquered the markets that lie outside of China!”