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Will China turn the world of marketing on its head?

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Many of us know the story of rapid economic growth in China. In 2006 China's GDP surpassed the UK's, and by 2016 the Chinese economy was more than 6 times larger.

As such in the last ten years China has transformed itself in a number of key areas that could see China take centre stage in the next decade.

Digital connectivity and reliance on mobile

Staggeringly in 2006 just one tenth of China’s population was online, and only a third had a mobile phone. Now, nearly everyone has a mobile, and more than half use the internet, 772m people – mostly on their phones.

The access to the internet is one thing but what’s impressive is the way it’s been adopted. It’s hard to fathom Tencent’s super app, WeChat was released just seven years ago. Today, the mobile app has over one billion monthly users and has ingrained itself in nearly every facet of life. WeChat is so embedded into Chinese life that it’s poised to integrate China’s electronic id system. That’s some endorsement.

It’s not just WeChat though. Mobile reliance has reached an all-time high in China, with society going cashless in favour of mobile payment methods and certain apps like DiDi and Eleme being essential to live a “normal” life in the cities.

World’s largest companies

China now has 164 unicorns, worth a combined US$628 billion. Tencent, DiDi, Baidu, Alipay and Bytedance are just a few of the names that will be key players to watch in the next few years.

When it comes to start-ups with a valuation of over £10 billion, Decacorns, China has 6 of the top 10!

China has not hidden their desire to dominate the global technology industry by 2025 and it’s clearly on track.

Investment and growth in key sectors

China’s fertile start-up scene is now dominating not just domestically but now internationally. Social network Bytedance acquired Musical.ly. Ride Sharing app, DiDi, acquired Brazilian ride sharing app 99, China also leads the world in investment in AI development, New Retail and Fintech.

With many countries in the world protecting their own it seems China is the only country seeking globalisation and the response is now spreading protectionism. Western countries have already started blocking many acquisitions already by Chinese companies. Fearing these acquisitions of technology infrastructure are national security risks.

What does this mean for marketing?

Traditionally marketing agencies have been run and operated by western people who have perfected the craft over 100 years. This was of course with the benefit that innovations in print, radio, tv and the internet were all happening in the west.

With China building its dominance of the very devices and platforms and technologies that influence the way we consume information how will the way they present information and build these platforms change the way we consume it? By 2025 a Chinese company could control the way our messages have been delivered.

Western marketers will have to stay abreast of all the technology developments that are now happening in China to remain in touch with the best way to reach and activate customers.

Will Chinese brands replace western brands?

Given the western dominance driving the brand messages for the world’s biggest brands what will happen if western countries are no longer the key markets? With China accounting for 50% of luxury consumption does it make more sense to lead with a marketing / branding strategy that works more for a Chinese consumer than a western one?

The world is already changing. Who ever thought they would drive a Chinese car ten years ago? It’s incredible to think that London Taxis, Lotus and potentially JLR are/ will be owned by a Chinese car company that 30 years ago made fridges!

It’s not just borrowing brand equity through acquisition but Geely has learnt to create their own brands such as Lynk & co. Touted to be the world’s most connected car- a smartphone on wheels.

The fact that a new car brand can emerge is showing that the traditional building blocks for brand strategy of heritage and legacy are waning with a younger audience. If Chinese companies can create great products with a strong offering they can challenge established brands.

Scale of creative innovation

China’s scale means that creative innovation will continue to happen at breakneck speed. I don’t believe that Chinese advertising will ever be like the west and I don’t believe advertising and agencies as we know it will exist in the future. Chinese brands will learn to find what aspects of their brand vision can create great stories for a western audience and they will deliver these through unrivalled technological communications.

Chinese brands will learn to build brand stories for both domestic and global markets, combining them with some of the innovations happening in China to the west. We will see new forms of retail delivering messages to young western consumers excited by disruption and change. Legacy and heritage will be less important as long as the trust is built through great products, services and communication.

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