Chinese brands are more than holding their own against western firms in the court of public opinion in China, according to WPP’s latest Top 100 Most Valuable Chinese Brands study.
A few things jump out from this table:
- A majority of the most trusted Chinese firms are privately-owned
- The high level of trust in Baidu, despite its legacy of selling search placements, paid deletion of online comments, video copyright infringements and other misdemeanours
- The absence of (and therefore relatively low trust in) well-known global Chinese companies, notably Lenovo.
Most noteworthy is that the study finds that Chinese companies/brands are (and indeed have been for some time) as trusted or more trusted in China than their foreign peers, something that may come as a surprise to many outside the Middle Kingdom and to plenty of foreigners living in China.
Assuming the data is accurate, and putting aside concerns that the findings go against the grain of other recent studies and that trust differs significantly by category (German cars and Italian luxury still get the nod in China), how is it that so many Chinese firms are building local reputations that are just as strong if not stronger than those of their foreign peers?
- They understand local consumers and stakeholders better than their foreign competitors
- They provide increasingly useful, valuable and high-quality products
- They have kept prices affordable, at least relative to some foreign firms eg. Starbucks
- They are actively improving customer service and other functions
- They provide many local Chinese with jobs
- In an environment in which patriotism is being played up by the authorities, Chinese companies are seen as Chinese (though this can work both to their advantage and to their detriment)
- Government and official media (CCTV) campaigns against foreign firms such as Apple and GSK are helping seed doubts about the quality of foreign products
- Foreign brand failures, such as Fonterra’s botulism scare earlier this year, have given local brands an opportunity to cast themselves as caring and responsible.
As the study shows, companies of all types are generally held in fairly low esteem in China. The Chinese are notoriously price conscious and fickle – brand loyalty remains low in the country. As competition intensifies and food safety and pollution issues continue (as seems likely), trust will become an increasingly important factor in purchase decision-making in China.
Going forward, it will be interesting to see which Chinese companies manage to win the real trust of their domestic customers and other stakeholders, and how they go about it.
Equally interesting will be to see how foreign companies react. Even the German car manufacturers shouldn’t rest on their laurels for long.