Making national products popular
You Nuo

Unlike their high-profile fellow athletes, there were Chinese fighting on another front at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

They were promoting Chinese brands.

Maybe you didn't notice, but Wang Weiqun, editor of the Beijing-based trade journal Successful Marketing will tell you, the footware for the US and Spanish basketballers was furnished by Li Ning, a mainland sportsware manufacturer named after its founder, China's accomplished gymnastics champion who won three gold medals at the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984.

Nike was the sponsor of the Chinese basketball team.

But Li-Ning was just one of the Chinese brands learning to compete with overseas rivals and brands by taking advantage of the Athens Games.

Now that marketers have turned the country into the largest advertising market in Asia, they are ready to take Chinese brands from the domestic market onto the global market.

And Li-Ning certainly deserved a medal for its luck in supporting players who remained in the focus of television cameras and in sports news headlines for a long time.

One of the bitter lessons that many other Chinese marketers learned from Athens was that sportsmen and women who were expected to win gold medals there didn't.

Thus they suffered losses in advertising money in hiring or endorsing those players. Expensive television commercials that those companies shot in advance never got to be shown after the players they featured lost their way.

This was like betting on the wrong horse. But it was not surprising as the most competitive sports event in the world was full of surprises.

Of course, building brands takes much effort, not just advertising and sponsoring athletes. From the ways they used the just concluded Athens Olympics, we can tell that many Chinese marketers are just learning about brand building and brand management.

In the arena of brands, China has to learn a lot and practise a lot. And the learning process can take place along several lines at once.

Drawing up a branding strategy

At the strategic level, no one can replace the manufacturers' top executives in developing the overall plan based on the balancing of the company's strengths, constraints, and ambition.

Large companies are running more than one product brand series, based on strategic valuation of their market.

P&G is managing at once many product brands in different regional markets worldwide from their brandnames to their recipes.

Management of such packaged brands is still a rare phenomenon in China, reflecting, probably, still under-developed market segmentation.

Even the companies which own more than one brand, thanks mainly to their successful acquisition operations such as Greencool, the supplier of environmentally-friendly refrigerant which has now acquired major domestic air-conditioner makers often have problems in using their brands to support one another, instead of letting them compete with one another.

Hiring expertise in management

This is similar to the 1990s when many State-owned companies issued shares in Hong Kong, when their executives had barely learned the capital market practices here, such as information disclosure.

But many companies outsourced the promotion of their shares to professional agents, from investment bankers to investment relations consultants, and in the process,helping them restructure their organizations in such a way as to be able to carry out those practices.

But there are few capable brand management consultants in the mainland. Those who have experience in overseas marketing campaigns are even fewer.

Increasingly, mainland manufacturers and exporters are looking for help in Hong Kong, believing that Hong Kong has more individuals with overseas marketing and sales experience.

Managing the market and agents

Usually, Chinese exporters know little about the destinations of their goods, and their end users. There should be a new public service for them, to provide them with accurate and timely information about the global market, and also a dependable platform, possibly on the Internet, to manage their cross-border business.

China will have such a public service, sooner or later. But despite its ample experience in this area, what role Hong Kong can play in facilitating its development is still not clear.

Copyright 2004 by All rights reserved.