British clothing and apparel is growing in popularity in China, particularly amongst the now often referred to market segment; ‘millenials’, that is Children born after 1990.
The Chinese market now boasts over 350 million middle class consumers, the largest number in the world and British fashion is proving to be a strong beneficiary. The UK Apparel and accessories industry is growing with 340,000 direct jobs created across 80 000 companies.
The success of British Apparel in China is linked to its success back home. The industry now adds $11.5bn to the UK economy annually. In-fact the UK is now the third largest fashion employer in Europe, behind Italy and Germany. Growth in the British market always precedes further growth in China and we are now seeing a host of British Apparel companies such as Burberry, Mulberry and Old Scent developing their Asian operations and thriving in the middle kingdom.
‘British’ represents quality
In a market renowned for fake, cheaper domestic products the label of ‘being British’ represents quality. Branding a product as ‘British’ is strongly associated with quality in the minds of the Chinese consumer who have often been let down by poorer quality Chinese products. The presence of fakes in the market has actually created a strong backlash, with discerning Chinese buyers passionate about obtaining the genuine article; they are prepared to pay a premium for this.
Apparel and Status
The important Chinese concept to understand is ‘face’. It dominates society and is the driving factor behind consumer behaviour. ‘Face’ is the importance the Chinese place on being perceived in a positive light, as successful and having status and will make purchases based on this priority.
British brands can tap into this fixation with status and appearance. British apparel connotes heritage and a sense of maturity but most importantly, from the Chinese perspective, is associated with wealth and luxury.
Chinese Millenials, the key target market?
Chinese Millenials, those born after 1990, have grown up in a strong consumer culture. They have been highly exposed to international brands from a young age and, if born into a wealthy family, are the driving force behind the success of brands such as Burberry.
The one child policy created the phenomenon of the ‘little emperor’. A generation of younger, wealthy Chinese who have been doted on by their parents, two sets of grandparents as well as uncles and aunts because they were an only child. This has led to a wave of consumers with more money and an even stronger preoccupation with status purchasing.
London is Iconic in China.
The image of London is iconic in China, it is now the top European destination for Chinese visitors behind Paris, in fact in 2016 approximately 100 000 Chinese visited London. Images of London landmarks can be used to great effect in branding to immediately convey ‘Britishness’ as this is most often how life in the UK is perceived to be. They are buying into a certain cultural lifestyle.
A famous campaign in China really heightened Chinese interest in the city. Visit Britain launched a project whereby internet users were asked to re-name the streets and sights in London in Mandarin Characters. There is now essentially an ‘alternative London map’ featuring these Chinese selected street names. A gimmick, but a very effective one as over 3 million netziens contributed suggestions.
Travellers and shopping
The Chinese traveller is typically associated with shopping, consumer culture and purchase desire is never quenched, particularly as the goods on offer are guaranteed of their authenticity from official designer stores. It would not be inaccurate to say that many visitors to the UK include shopping as a key element of their itinerary.
What has led to the rise of British Apparel?
The growth of cross border e-commerce
The growth of Cross Border online commerce in China has been unprecedented and offers British Apparel a much more developed infrastructure for growth than five years ago.
The leading player is e-commerce giant ‘Alibaba’. Their flagship platform Tmall allows brands to ‘host’ official stores on the platform. They even launched a dedicated division to international sales called ‘Tmall Global’. Here is where the target consumer shops, Tmall boasts over 200 million registered users with accounts.
The benefit for consumers is that the ‘official stores’ guarantee authenticity. They also allow brands to customize the store, much like their own mini site.
Apparel brands can also benefit from Alibaba’s extensive delivery infrastructure across China, distribution and storage facilities. It is a large-scale investment but pays dividends because of the loyal consumer shopping in this market place.
How to grow your British Apparel brand in China?
It is important to realize that the Chinese consumers have often been cheated and let down by home grown brands, they therefore will research extensively online on search engines, social media and forums before buying into anything.
A quality Chinese website.
This is step one, the site needs to be optimized for Chinese search engines. It needs to be well designed and communicate the brand message effectively in Chinese characters. It is the key to your branding. Most sites include live chat customer services and links to WeChat (the largest social media platform).
Be Visible on Baidu, the largest Chinese Search Engine.
The next step is to make the website visible on Baidu. You need to appear based on certain keyword searches in English and Mandarin Characters such as ‘British Fashion’ or ‘British Brand’. The most effective way to generate leads is to be ranked highly in the natural search results. This is achieved through creating quality Chinese content, having backlinks, references and quality website audit.
Paid advertising links (PPC) and banner ads are also effective, especially for market entry. A combination of the two approaches works best but the highest quality consumer leads always come from the natural search results.
Social media for branding in China is vital. WeChat is the largest platform with over 800 million registered users. Creating an ‘offical account’ here acts like a mini-site and is arguably more important than you website.. certainly for branding purposes. You need to attract followers with great content and exclusive offers and promotions via WeChat. You can also offer customer services on the platform which is increasingly popular. WeChat is such an integrated service, Chinese consumers expect to be able to interact with brands now in chat groups.
Forums are yesterday’s news in Europe, America and Australia but in much of Asia and particularly China they are still very popular. Appearing on search results, often before an official site, will be the forums. Forum posts are important because they come from other consumers, not from the brand itself. You need to develop a positive reputation here with conversions, threads, comments and content. It is thought to be 5 times more effective if the message comes from other consumers, especially in collectivist China where the views of peers is vitally important.
Adapting and tailoring content.
How do you communicate this sense of ‘British quality’ in the best way for this market. Feature Chinese models and tap into the attractiveness of an international lifestyle, a globalized world where China and Britain are closer than ever. It is important to not just translate content directly, it needs to be re-worked in Mandarin to best communicate the message.
British Apparel in China is certainly a very lucrative market. The barriers for entry can create problems but for those who are prepared to jump the hurdles and dive into this fascinating marketplace there is a great potential for sustainable growth.