7 Best Strategies for Cultural Relevance in China

The biggest challenge for Western brands in China is to build a meaningful connection with their local audience. They may have Chinese consumers but they also may miss a certain understanding and knowledge of the local culture, heritage, and trends. Cultural relevance is the key to success in China.

This is what makes cross-cultural marketing so important.

Key takeaways:

  1. Geographical Differences
  2. Chinese Language
  3. Cultural Awareness
  4. Importance of Packaging and Gifting
  5. Group Culture
  6. Local Trends
  7. Sensitivity to Symbols and Colors

I already covered it in my LinkedIn newsletter “How Fashion Brands Can Improve Cultural Relevance in China“. In this article, we’ll go further into each strategy to give you more actionable knowledge and case studies.

Let’s dive in.

What is Cultural Relevance?

To make a brand resonate in another country, it’s important to understand what is the profound difference between this new country and its home country, especially when we talk about the East and China.

According to Law Insider, “culturally relevant means incorporating awareness, understanding, and responsiveness to the beliefs, values, customs, and institutions“.

Understanding Chinese culture requires a deep comprehension of its history, heritage, core values, beliefs, and habits. Indeed, China is the oldest civilization in the world. It has more than 4,000 years of recorded history. From the Neolithic culture to the Chinese dynasties, the country has been shaped by a great history. When we talk about Chinese consumers, we need to understand how they think differently, prioritize reputation, group decisions, the face (Mianzi 面子), or social connections (Guanxi 关系).

All these differences make cultural relevance important in China.

Why is Cultural Relevance Important in China?

For luxury and fashion brands, cultural relevance is important to 2 major extents:

  1. Avoid a bad reputation in China
  2. Build a meaningful connection with Chinese consumers

When Western brands master this art, they turn their market entry into a success story. They get recognized and appreciated by local consumers for what they represent, not only a foreign brand that wants to catch the large sales revenue in China but a brand that appreciates the local culture and specificity. This genuine interest is what will make Chinese consumers fall in love with your brand.

As we saw earlier, this awareness and understanding must be authentic to matter.

How to Make Your Brand Relevant in China?

Understanding local habits and tastes is essential for successful marketing strategies in China. For luxury and fashion brands, it’s essential to become familiar with these principles to turn their regular advertising into a long-term bond with their Chinese audience. And it’s part of the top fashion brands’ strategies to implement in China.

Let’s show you how.

1. Address Geographical Differences in China

New entrants always consider China as one large plain country. The marketing of fashion brands is often considering the Chinese consumer as a unique consumer. In reality, China has 23 provinces, 685 cities, and 56 ethnic groups. The Chinese consumers you are talking with in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Xi’An, Chongqing, Guilin (and the list goes on) are completely different.

In the USA, you wouldn’t implement the same strategy in New York and Los Angeles. It’s the same for China, between Beijing and Shenzhen. If you spend millions in communication for your down jacket in Shenzhen in October, you missed cultural relevance and you show your final consumer that you don’t know anything about the climate and city they live in. We recommend working with a local agency that conducts consumer interviews with experience in targeted city ads.

Our co-founder, June Fan, wrote a dedicated article about Shenzhen called “Shenzhen: Why this Strategic Tier-1 City is Now the Luxury Market Favorite?“. You can check it out.

2. Use the Chinese Language to Build Relevance

Only 1% of the Chinese population speaks English. It means that whether you are talking with final consumers or with distributors, you have a great chance that they won’t understand the beautiful brochure and catalogue you sent to them. Whether it is on your Chinese social media or on your communication material, speaking Chinese is the least you can do to show your genuine interest.

Our recommendation is to work with an agency specializing in China. For this, working with a Chinese person is not enough – you need a Chinese marketer. Someone who can understand the subtility behind each Chinese character to provide a curated translation of each of your communication in China. This is why we provide services of translation and incorporate this work in each project. It’s a way to propel your brand 15 times faster in China.

3. Develop Cultural Awareness to Avoid Bad Buzz

When you communicate in China, you need to know the local culture and history to avoid bad buzz. The majority of “badvertising” of luxury and fashion brands could have been avoided if they knew about the local culture and sensitive topics. For instance, we can talk about:

  • Dior: The luxury brand released a skirt at $3,800 USD said to be a unique design of Mr. Christian Dior but with great resemblance to the Mamian skirt from the Ming dynasty. It created negative reactions from Chinese consumers.
  • Dolce & Gabbana: The luxury brand created a campaign video showing a Chinese woman eating pizza, spaghetti, and cannoli with chopsticks. The brand was cancelled in China and the CEO got into trouble with his fans.
  • Porcelain: International home brands entered the market stating they had the best quality of porcelain, explaining their unique know-how to Chinese consumers, without even recognizing the origin and strong history of porcelain in China.

For this, cultural awareness is the key. You can learn about the country’s history, manufacture, and know-how before entering it. It doesn’t mean that you have to know the Chinese culture by heart. Knowing only a part of their long-lasting history can already prevent you from 80% of the mistakes committed by other brands. And in any case – always work with a good local partner.

4. Insist on Packaging to Respect the Gifting Culture

The Chinese culture gives a strong importance to gifts. They are given as tokens of esteem, gratitude, and the foundation of a positive relationship. Compared to the West, when you receive a gift in China, you don’t open it. This is why packaging matters that much in China – because the gesture matters more than what is inside.

For this, we recommend you work with local designers to craft unique packaging for local festivals. You can create beautiful red and gold packaging for Chinese New Year or a creative design for 520 (Chinese Valentine’s Day). In general, your marketing agency can support this part to have a holistic O2O campaign from packaging to advertising on social media. Otherwise, you can ask design agencies or packaging agencies to support this part.

You can find 5 examples of creative campaigns for Mid Autumn Festival here.

5. Think Group Culture to Increase Consumer Bond

We often describe Western societies as being more individualistic compared with the Chinese culture which is more group-oriented. Indeed, Chinese people are more centered around their family, compound, residence, workgroup, friend group, etc. This simple fact makes a great difference in your marketing. When you talk about couples, families, sisterhoods, friendships, and generations, you have a bigger impact.

This is exactly why eco-friendly brands struggle in China, not because Chinese people are not sustainable, but because their message is not consistent with what local people seek.

If you want to create a stronger resonance in China, you can display group-oriented marketing. You can share family-focused campaigns, organize offline events, propose gatherings in stores, and prepare unique lucky draws and competitions. Your creativity has no limit when it comes to marketing in China.

6. Follow the Trends to Increase Engagement

There is nothing worse than feeling disconnected from the people we talk with. Everything goes fast in our society, and if you don’t keep in touch with the current trends, emotions, news, changes, and thoughts of the Chinese people, your message may feel a little outdated.

A few local trends you can look into to engage more with your Chinese audience:

  • EMO
  • Involution
  • Quiet luxury
  • Happy resignation
  • Cleanfit
  • Smart investment
  • Multi-cultural sports and wellness

If you want to have a deeper look into the fashion trends, you can check our article “Top Guide for Fashion Trends in China in 2023“.

7. Learn about Symbols and Colors in China

This one is the most tricky one for Western fashion and luxury brands. Indeed, the choice of colors and symbols is bearing much more meaning than it does in the West. Why? Because there is a meaning behind each of them. Hence, Chinese consumers feel connected to brands that use specific symbols and colors that could be an ode to the Chinese heritage and culture.

colors in china

For this, you need to learn about Chinese culture and you can show your dedication by partnering with a Chinese artist or brand. With your local agency, you can work on creative campaigns and creative design for your social media using specific colors or symbols.

For instance, for an Austrian watch brand, we came up with the idea to have a campaign around the peacock. For the Miao ethnic group (based in South China), the peacock is a strong symbol of power, beauty, and divinity. The campaign reached a strong exposure on social media and increased the sales of the brand in South China for the following 3 months.

How do you Stay Culturally Relevant in China?

After all, the main challenge for luxury, fashion, and lifestyle brands is not only to be culturally relevant, but also to remain culturally relevant. It’s not only about creating a bond with Chinese consumers but about building a long-term relationship. For this, you need to be genuinely curious about what Chinese consumers like, want, and fear.

Or you can work with a trustworthy partner who can do it for you.

And this is where Reverse Group comes.

We have 5+ years of experience in the Chinese market, working with large luxury groups like LVMH and small beautiful brands like MAL Paris. We master the Chinese culture and heritage, we share our passion for luxury, and we take your brand from the status of “another entrant” to a strong local success. Contact us to boost your brand in China!

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