Branding the BRICs

Over the past fortnight, I’ve found myself thinking more and more about emerging markets again. I studied a bit of international marketing at university, which gave me a solid base of knowledge when it comes to the theories around culture differences, from Hofstede’s four principles to Edward Hall’s Beyond Culture, and it was great to revisit these at a PRCA Breakfast Briefing I attended, hosted by Sally Costerton, Chairman & CEO EMEA at Hill & Knowlton.

The theory remains unchanged, there are cultural differences in the ways of working in the East and West, and professionals need to understand, adapt and accept their colleagues or clients that stem from opposing backgrounds. However, what struck me at the talk was the speed at which we in the West need to do so. Whilst the Economist asks in its Tube station billboards on your stance on China, it’s clear to me that the rise of the East is showing no signs of stopping, with a four pronged approach from the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China).

There are those who show apprehension to the East, and for me I see two arguments. The first is that Eastern markets aren’t sophisticated enough and the second is that Europe (in particular Britain) is going to lose its competitive advantage, which presents a fear more than anything else. Indeed, in the BBC series ‘Made in Britain‘, presenter Evan Davis appears worried when he cannot find any British produce in the fridge of his Chinese ‘Dragons’ Den’ host counterpart. And whilst there is some fear, I am of the firm opinion that young people need to open their minds and allow this change to happen – and there are two trends I see occurring.

1. Understanding the emerging market consumer

If Western brands such as KitKat (mentioned in the show), BMW and Pizza Express are to survive, they need to understand the growing middle classes in countries such as China and India and find ways of marketing to them and creating a brand presence. Something that I saw on my travels in Mumbai and something Sally reiterated is that there are millions and millions of foreign consumers who are crying out for brands to appeal to them and provide them with the products and the status that they have so long provided Westerners. In fact, I would go as far as arguing that brands that are faltering in the West could do even better by changing tact and focusing on nations where consumers are earning money faster than they can spend it.

2. Eastern brands are coming West

The BBC documentary mentions Li Ning, a sportswear brand that has opened its flagship store in China, providing a customer experiencing rivalling that of Nike in London. These brands are ripe for experienced marketers and branding professionals to mature. It’s not just sportswear, today’s Independent reports that China’s Huawei is in a drive to be a smartphone leader. A sign that the dragon can’t be tamed.

Unless we start to go out there, understand new consumers and market our current brands, we’re going to see brands such as Nike and Adidas slowing dying out to the likes of Li Ning. More and more Eastern brands are appearing in top global brands rankings (China Mobile was 9 in BrandZ’s top 100 this year) and this isn’t going to change.

So either adapt (your brand to the East), adopt (eastern brands to the West), or die.

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