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How UK advertising helps emerging Chinese brands grow faster

JANUARY 12, 2022

It was a huge pleasure to be involved with a recent event hosted by the UK’s Department of International Trade jointly with UKAEG and the Shanghai International Advertising Festival.

As the newly appointed Managing Director for Across the Pond in the Greater China area, I was one of the speakers on a panel looking at the topic of unlocking collaboration between the UK and China, as part of a wider theme of ‘From China to the world, how to help emerging Chinese brands grow faster’.

If you were at the event, you would be amazed by the scene of so many emerging brands in China with great ambitions to grow their businesses in other continents, despite all the barriers and hurdles.

Much as business people like to see themselves as cool-headed pragmatists, it’s hard not to notice the sense of excitement and trepidation that arises when the topic turns to working with China. We have a market which has immense potential to deliver bottom-line growth, but it’s hard to ignore the well-resourced businesses which have tried but failed to make inroads here.

It’s similar for Chinese brands looking at expanding overseas, knowing the rewards could be huge but with multiple challenges and risky decisions to make regarding strategy.

Much of my career has been spent working in this area, most recently with luxury brands and before that as the producer of a number of documentaries about China made for international broadcasters. And it’s something that Across the Pond has also been doing for the past decade or more, when it first started working here with its founding client, Google.

That’s why I loved the fact that the event focused on ‘unlocking collaboration’ – it really echoes my best experiences working across markets and recognises that whether you’re venturing into China as a western brand or vice versa, there’s so much we can learn from each other.

I firmly believe the UK advertising industry has earned its reputation for offering world-leading creativity and a deep pool of talent, and I admire the instinct to keep innovating even when something good has been made. At the same time, I know from my experiences that some Chinese businesses don’t understand why things happen slowly. In fact, it can be dizzying for foreigners to see the speed at which Chinese businesses operate – even for an agile agency like Across the Pond, which is used to working with fast-paced Google decision makers!

Learning from colleagues in other countries has always been an interesting, valuable experience, but I think that has never been more true than in our digital age, where consumer behaviours around the world are starting to become more homogenous.

In the past, accepted wisdom was that western consumers place a lot of faith in brand reputation, while Chinese shoppers are more price driven and draw on measures other than brand to ascertain the quality of the products they buy.

But, today, partly due to Covid-19 driving so many more shoppers online, we are noticing that branding is becoming increasingly important for Chinese businesses in our home market too.

Long term, sustainable brand building means relating to customers on the most basic human level. Making the complex human, like we do at Across the Pond, has never felt more relevant.

Li Wei, Managing Director Great China, Across the Pond. You can find out more about Across the Pond here 

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