Introducing a new brand to the marketplace is a challenge.
Introducing an existing brand to a new marketplace is a challenge.
Introducing an existing brand to a marketplace whose culture is
poles apart from that of its home turf is an even greater
challenge, still. How do you take what you’ve learned from a
successful brand launch in one country and adapt this information
to meet the needs, tastes, and buying habits of another country?
And, what if this country is China, an arena for business that
is growing not incrementally, but exponentially? Suffice it to say,
It was about this topic that I spoke to Lance Friedmann, senior
vice president of Mondelēz International, and Fei Che, vice
president of corporate and government affairs for Mondelēz China.
For those who missed the trades a year or two back, Mondelēz
International comprises the global snack and food brands of the
former Kraft Foods. The name, adopted in 2012, came from the
input of Kraft employees, Monde being French for world,
and delēz to connote the notion of delicious. Among its
products are Oreos, along with other long-standing favorites
including Chips Ahoy, Cadbury chocolate, and Triscuit and Ritz
crackers. The intent of my conversation with the team from Mondelēz
International was to find out what those coming to China from the
United States in a brand leadership role should consider to be
critical factors in the quest for success. Here is a part of our
Allen Adamson: Lance, you’ve been at
Mondelēz China for about eight months. What, in your opinion, is
absolutely essential to keep in mind when building or managing a
brand in China versus what you’ve experienced in the United
Lance Friedmann: There are three things that
really jump out. To begin with, the rate of innovation expected by
consumers in China is higher than in many other markets. They
really are always looking for something new and they’re eager to
check it out and give it a try. I was skeptical of this, at first,
because you hear this being the case with many markets. But, having
seen this in action, it’s true.
AA: Do you have any thoughts as to why
China is more comfortable with rapid change, as opposed to say,
America, where an automobile model may be altered by a mere feature
or two from year to year? Do you think it might be because the gap
between how your parents lived and how you live is not as dramatic
in America as it is in China?
LF: Your point is a good one. The degree of
change that people in China have seen, even those under thirty
years old, is incredible. I believe this has acclimated them to
seeing what is new, what is possible, and what is different. The
reality that incomes are rising so rapidly also plays a critical
role. People can afford things they never thought possible. Buying
the next new thing has become an adventure, exciting and totally
acceptable to them.
AA: Wherein our country something new is not
necessarily assumed to be better; there are long-established
traditions. Do you think that there is a sense by the Chinese
consumer that new is, in fact, better?
LF: Quality still has to be an integral
part of the equation. There is a respect for the fundamentals of
good brand management, meaning innovation must still deliver fresh
and desirable benefits. It’s just that there’s a greater appetite
and willingness for trying new things.
AA: In addition to this desire for things that
are new and innovative, what are the other two factors you consider
to be different in the Chinese market than in the U.S. market?
LF: Without a doubt, one of them is
localization. If you cut and paste a strategic plan, or assume just
because consumers like something in one country they’ll like it in
another, you’re bound to have issues. Finally, there’s the
extraordinary weight of digital media in the Chinese peoples’ lives
and, therefore, the need to incorporate this into marketing plans.
It blew me away to see how connected to digital and,
specifically social media, people of all ages are in China.
It’s a way of life to hundreds of millions of people. The more you
can plug into this dynamic, the more successful your brand will be.
People in the U. S. may share things that delight them, and this is
certainly a boon to marketers. When this happens in China, the
scale is mind-blowing.
AA: Is there a story you can share that
makes for a good example of all three of these factors, the rate of
innovation, localization, and the absolute requirement for a
Fei Che: We did a wonderful campaign for Oreo
Twist Open the Bonding Magic in 2013, tied to the idea of
family bonding and sharing. It involved parents, especially the
fathers, creating their own videos showing how their families
connected because of Oreos. That, in essence, is what Oreos are all
about—family connections. We partnered with one of China’s greatest
film directors, Feng Xiaogang, to assist us with the
initiative, which we called “
Oreo—Bonding Magic in China.” He worked with us to put together
a micro movie that was distributed over the Internet, showing
mostly fathers interacting with their children. The key insight for
this campaign was that, in China, you see mothers taking children
to classes or to playgrounds and shops over the weekend, and
grandparents often take care of them during the week days, but you
rarely see fathers in a bonding mode as they are often at work or
off working in other cities.
LF: The power of this story was
incredible. In terms of new experiences, this Oreo initiative
opened up a completely new world, and a new way to look at how
fathers and children are interacting. And, talk about digital
scale, in other markets if you get 10,000 or 20,000 people sending
in entries, you’d be happy. We got three and a half million
stories. And of the six that were chosen for the online video,
there were 143 million views.
AA: Because you showed such a deep
understanding of the Chinese family and the inherent relationships,
you were able to unlock this insight in a unique and powerful way.
You gave families a way to express themselves, show their
connectivity to each other.
FC: The insight and degree of focus on the
fathers was fresh and touching, and highlighted the core emotion of
how difficult it is for fathers who are working so hard to see
their children. Many fathers have anxiety about the need to support
their families and get their families to a better financial place,
but they are also very loving to their children.
LF: Another important aspect of this story,
and particularly relevant to the importance of localizing a
product, is that when we initially launched Oreos in China in
1990s, we found that the taste was too sweet for the Chinese
palate, and the price too high. This led to a reformulation of
the ingredients, as well as new formats, including a cookie stick,
versus a wafer. Understanding cultural differences and adapting
products to meet them was critical to success.
AA: On a final note, marketing folks are
used to looking at things in the rearview mirror. You look back and
try to project the future. It’s a much trickier game now. You
really have to be more agile, nimble, and responsive as a brand
builder. But this notion of speed and agility is at a whole new
level in China than in more mature markets.
LF: It’s a big deal. When people come to
work in Asia, in China, they’re immediately struck by how volatile
and how quickly demand patterns can change. It might be a cliché,
but speed is the currency of doing business in the
21st century. And, if you can’t play at the speed
that’s required in China, you’re going to miss out.
Orginally published on Forbes.com.
Image courtesy of Flickr and