Story telling is a key aspect to consider when it comes to ‘branding’ in China.

The Chinese consumers is drawn to appealing narratives surrounding products, they are looking for something unique which sets a brand apart in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Connecting with consumers emotionally through a well constructed narrative has become evermore important. Products come to life through stories and this can be what elevates your brand.

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 People are powerfully attracted by stories, in this way you can engage with the consumer on a more personal level, the audience arguably become ‘part of the brand’. Identifying with a conceptual narrative is likely to lead to a stronger sense of brand identity as well as greater loyalty on the part of the consumer.
Western brands need to understand what appeals to the Chinese so they can adapt their style of story telling accordingly.
luxury Chinese
Here are some narrative themes which have been adopted by brands in China:

Modern ‘technological’ or ‘spectacular’ concepts

Burberry have prominently branded themselves in this way. In 2011 they held a major event in Beijing which featured a theatrical fashion show that explored and questioned the lines between the virtual and physical world. It included spectacular holograms and cutting edge visuals.
Burberry’s chief creative officer Christopher Bailey when interviewed by BoF said; “It’s important to keep innovating with your product and keep telling different stories with it. History and heritage is important to have as a foundation, but you have to build on top of that to keep it moving forward. Technology helps us do that.”
A new Chinese flagship store has opened in Shanghai’s ‘Kerry Centre’ a designer shopping mall. It has been designed to offer multi-sensory experiences for customers. It is an event space and entertainment hub just as much as it is a store. This demonstrates how narrative focus is clearly at the forefront of Burberry’s brand experience.
The Burberry ‘brand’ is more than just a product, it is being given a modern twist because of this new narrative angle. In a press release the company said; ‘guests will be taken on an immersive, theatrical journey through the Burberry world of music, heritage, product and innovation – bringing the brand’s hometown of London to Shanghai.’
  
China itself is a modern, ‘spectacle’ with cities such as Shanghai keenly focused on the future, this style of progressive, technological story telling needs to be understood within the context of modern China today. Therein, perhaps, lies this type of narrative appeal to the Chinese consumer.

The ‘Love Story’

The ‘love story’ may be considered a cliché in the west but in China it remains popular and has a strong, enduring appeal. Love stories are very popular in China with many popular songs, films and books concerned with this classic example of a ‘human interest’ story.
Brands can very effectively engage with the Chinese consumer through a well marketed love story which feels genuine and sincere.
Sebastien Grynko a Frenchman from Paris has had much success in China with his lingerie brand ‘Chaton’. He has marketed lingerie in a personal way basing the narrative around himself and his partner. In a previous interview with us he spoke of how; “for Irina and I choosing lingerie was really something very natural. Irina is a Russian and Slavic women, any self-respecting woman has a huge penchant for lingerie.”
The narrative is concerned with the couple who become intimately associated with the product. They have posted video’s of themselves on Youku and make themselves accessible to customers. This personal, romantic touch has proved popular with the Chinese.
Sebastien speaks fondly of his business partner; “when we find the right person to share his life with it becomes very simple, ‘Chaton’ is our “first baby”. Our love will only grow thanks to this experience.” A well constructed romantic narrative combined with the Chinese perception of French products as luxurious and sensual has contributed to the success of Chaton. source Yoka
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 The ‘Success Story’

The ‘Chinese Dream’ is a popular phrase now in China, akin to the ‘American Dream’ it emphasizes that the individual can achieve success through their own efforts. It arguably marks a significant move towards consumerist individuality and away from many traditional communist values.

In this current market place the ‘success story’ is set to be a powerful marketing tool.

Chanel’s brand storytelling is a fantastic example of how luxury brands can advertise to the individual in this way. The company’s founder, ‘Coco Chanel’, is the strong woman behind the story thus directly associating the story with the brand. She had a difficult life with a miserable childhood that she ran away from and a series of failed relationships. Coco Chanel is an example of an independent woman who turned her life around, she ‘gained the courage to challenge tradition and celebrate being herself’.

At this time fashion was dominated by constricting corsets for ladies, Chanel changed the rules by introducing comfortable, casual clothing that borrowed fabrics and attitudes from men’s fashion, this resonated with young women of that era. This tale of female strength and independence is fitting in modern China as women increasingly define their gender through what they consume.
For more information on the luxury market in China see our previous article.
A brand story such as this highlights that it’s not just about the product, it’s ideological, ways of living and engaging with the world are reflected by the consumer’s consumption choices.

Universality and cultural adaption

In order for a brand to go truly global, it needs to have a universal sense of spirit or theme. Global brands such as ‘Apple’ and ‘Nike’ focus on many universal elements which transcend culture, geography and generations.
There should be this sense of brand universality in conjunction with localized, cultural adaption. The local Chinese culture is very different, narratives will need to be universally ‘human’ but also distinctively Chinese.
People are very social media savy in China, a good story can spread extraordinarily quickly online. Investing in branding yourself through a well constructed narrative is important. A specialist agency in China can help you craft the ‘right’ story and market it in the best way to your audience.
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