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Is your brand fit for China?

So very many people. So very high buildings. So very few parks. Here in Hong Kong.

I am sitting at a dinner table and repeating a question from previous nights: ”So, tell me, what is currently the most important trend in the Chinese consumer market?”

”A healthy lifestyle. Absolutely. People look for solutions that improve their health condition”, replies Everest, my new Chinese business acquaintance without giving it more than a nano-second. This confirms what I’ve heard from other people throughout my stay.  And this is what I see and what I sense: Having a healthy lifestyle is a true boom in China.

What makes the health-boom interesting is that it has already proven to be long-lived in Western countries. And China is just picking it up. This is why, I believe, this megatrend creates a lot of room for new innovations and new brands in China. Also beyond Nike, Adidas, Anta and Under Armour. There are hundreds of millions of wanna-be athletes that are eager to ”just do it” – and not all of them want to stick to the mainstream. Canadian yoga brand Lululemon is a good example of this. It is catching on among wealthy urbanites and has opened stores in Beijing and Shanghai.

Financial Times turns the health-trend into figures. In the article ”China keep-fit boom works out for toned brands” (Wed 22 March) it quotes Euromonitor’s survey which shows 11 per cent growth in sportsware sales in China. The market has grown to 27bn dollars. By contrast, sales of overall apparel climbed just 5 per cent. Also, gym memberships in China has, according to China Business Research Academy, doubled  since 2008. And, just to spice up the data, more than 100 marathons were held last year compared with 51 in 2014.

China’s government is not only demonstrating a strong commitment to dealing with pollution and other environmental issues but also in boosting the uptake of sports. This is understandable as China is facing the very same problem as most Western countries: an epidemic growth of obesity-related diabetes and other lifestyle-associated illnesses.

So, why should we care?

We Finns tend to take the elements of a healthy life for granted: clean water, clean food, fresh air, space and even silence. These precious gifts of nature help people recover from stress and inspire them to lead a more balanced life-style. It is no wonder that they are much desired assets in extremely busy and crowded parts of the world. Places just like Hong Kong.

What is especially remarkable with these resources is the fact that they can’t be copied or reproduced very easily. Therefore, we should definitely strive harder for refining them into high-end products and services. And thus into profitable businesses.

So, what does it take to conquer China?

There is a nice saying: ”If there is a will, there is a way”. It is quite obvious that conquering China takes a lot of effort. It requires innovative products, disruptive storytelling and aggressive marketing. What has lowered the entry barrier is the rise of e-commerce. China’s online retail penetration hit a new high of 11% in 2014 and is expected to double to 22% by 2020. Sales generated from overseas are also on the rise and this trend has, according to Bain & Co., continued to gain momentum as Chinese consumers look to retailers outside the country for products that deliver a higher assurance of health and safety.

I am, however, not so worried about the quality of the products or the roll-out. I am more worried about us finding the will. Without will, there is no need for finding the way. We should not feel insecure before the giant China. We should dare because we have gold in our pockets.

Summa summarum: it is about time to identify the uniqueness of Finnish nature and the ingredients it produces and start serving the health-boom. Brands like Paulig and Fazer are already well on their way and there are also some other brands slowly waking up. Once there is a will, joint ventures can make sense.

You might also be interested in reading my previous posts:
Ensure your success by adding just a little bit of disruptiveness
This is how branding icon Marc Gobé kicked off my career
Warm, competent brands win big. Social psychologists explain why.
Why a great brand story is just as important as a great product

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