China! Land of Contrasts! (Cue pictures of migrant workers wearily hauling bags of cement on bleak construction site with glitzy high rises shooting up behind them). Citing seemingly contradictory, irreconcilable statistics or facts when considering China is not breaking new ground (communist, authoritarian politics vs. entrepreneurial grassroots capitalism, gigantic investments in green technologies vs. hellish pollution and environmental degradation, push for an internationalized yuan vs. currency manipulation etc…), but, as the infallible James Fallows writes, “really absorbing them is one of the greatest challenges for the outside world in reckoning with China and its rise”.
When it comes to American perceptions of China, I can’t think of a better way to illustrate the confused feelings many in the US have then citing these two statistics back to back: 53% of Americans (falsely) name China as the world’s “top economic power”, yet 94% cannot name one single Chinese brand. Despite lofty international expansion goals and lavish marketing, roughly the same number of people can identify a Chinese brand as currently approve of Congress. Whether this is indicative of some sort of endemic “soft power fail” on behalf of Chinese business and political leaders, or we are simply in the embryonic stage of companies with huge addressable domestic markets turning their focus abroad…Congress. Ouch.
China is well aware of this, and it is fascinating watching how individual companies, government leaders, and media outlets address this challenge. With the recent acquisition of Smithfield by Chinese food conglomerate Shuanghui International, more attention than ever is being focused on the global ambitions of Chinese companies. The marketing, branding, and public relations challenges Chinese companies are facing, and will continue to face, in the United States are daunting, and I’ll be very interested to watch (and get my hands dirty with) these business opportunities in the years and decades to come.
This is an excerpt from a piece which recently appeared in The Global Times (环球时报) on the severe lack of trust in Chinese brands abroad, and the importance in addressing this.
Original article http://world.huanqiu.com/regions/2013-06/4031557.html
American Report: Chinese Companies Not Highly Trusted Abroad
Edelman, a well known US public relations firm, recently released the “2013 Global Trust Barometer”. According to this report, Chinese companies do not enjoy a high level of trust globally, ranking in the bottom third of the 17 countries surveyed. Without considering the scientific basis of this survey, this should serve as a wake up call to Chinese companies.
A Chinese company’s image abroad does not just impact its own operations and profits, but is linked to the overall perception of other Chinese companies. The behavior of thousands of Chinese companies abroad constitutes a very important component of the international community’s opinion of China. In the eyes of many foreigners, their feelings towards Chinese companies is the most intuitive and direct element in their overall opinion of China.
China is currently in a critical moment of its rise. China’s rise is very different from that of other nations throughout history, as it is a peaceful road towards power. Thus, the importance of “flexible means” and “soft power” are naturally higher, and the image of the nation and its corporations abroad is increasingly perceptible. Chinese companies, especially those aggressively seeking to expand abroad, have an “unshirkable responsibility” to be a window through which the world can observe China’s rise. Through their actions, these companies can assert a positive image of China, display the harmony and strength of Chinese culture, increase the acceptance of China by the international community, reduce resistance to China’s rise, and most importantly avoid “high costs” associated with China’s development.
In light of these considerations, problems and situations arising regarding Chinese companies abroad cannot be ignored, no matter how small. If the problems Chinese companies abroad are facing do not find substantive solutions, they will face a bottleneck in expanding globally, or even initiate a domino effect by increasing difficulties for companies going abroad in the future. With the deepening reality of China’s rise, this bottleneck could hinder the nation’s growth.
Improving the image of Chinese companies abroad requires the help and support of all levels in China, as well as increased efforts on behalf of these companies themselves to find a mutually complimenting balance between profit and image. To realize the “great revival of the Chinese nation”, we must work together to improve the image of Chinese companies abroad.