Brands in China – be true to yourself

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I was reading a post the other day (and forgot to bookmark it – my OCD having been taken out by the man flu) about how a substantial minority of  respondents thought that US-originated international brands in China like Coca-Cola were  local Chinese brands. Coca-Cola originally entered the Chinese market in 1928 and then re-entered when the country re-opened to the outside world in the early 1980s.

Coca-Cola Chinese design

The drink’s Chinese logo marries the traditional Coke flowing lines with the Chinese characters for ‘delicious happiness’. Coke welded itself to China’s caterpillar-like emergence at the Olympic games – so it is easy to see how Coca-Cola has become a Chinese brand for Chinese people. Here in the UK, Coca-Cola is an unashamedly US brand: from GI’s swigging it back during the war to halcyon images of American Graffiti to the urbane cougars (Sex in the City before Sex in the City) featured in the original diet Coke adsand hippies offering the world a Coke.

Yahoo! in the US is an all-American brand: Jerry Yang and David Filo building a business in the proverbial garage is the quintessential American story. They were not trust fund kids like Bill Gates, one was from the American South and the other was a first generation immigrant.

In Asia the company has managed to define itself as a local Asian brand. Yahoo! Japan is as much about Softbank founder Masayoshi Son as Yang and Filo. In each of the Asian countries where it has been successful the brand has developed specialist services that meet the needs of the local population and give them ‘ownership’ of the brand.

By comparison, in Europe, Yahoo! is a big amorphous brand that people don’t really get since what it stands for hasn’t been clearly articulated on a regular basis.

With Japanese brands Muji, Uniqlo and Nintendo they are unashamedly Japanese. Chauncey Zalkin in her recent article for Brandchannel Made in Japan: The Culture Behind The Brand points out how Japanese companies have made a virtue of being Japanese. If I see one flaw in her argument it would be that I would argue Sony has redefined itself as a global brand that stands for nothing rather than competitors like Nintendo or Nikon who have managed to retain their ‘Japanese-ness’ and maintained a respectable financial performance over the long term (at least this far).

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