Looking to expand your brand overseas?

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Looking to expand your brand overseas? Get your branding right first!

Did you know that 9 out of 10 Chinese businesses entering the American market fail? According to a study conducted by Sozo Group, a Hong Kong company that provides investment expertise to businesses in China, 90% of Chinese private enterprises that attempt to manufacture in the United States or Europe end up failing to gain a permanent foothold in the market.

If you’re reading this post, chances are your business has seen a fair amount of success here in China, and is ready to take the next step. Or maybe, you’re a new brand that wants to market directly to an overseas demographic. Either way, you have global aspirations. Unfortunately for many brands their overseas dream quickly turns into a nightmare, when they realize their efforts aren’t yielding the expected results, and that quite frankly, they don’t understand the market they’ve tried to penetrate. There are many reasons why this can happen, but today we’re going to talk about one of the leading culprits for this demise: A lack of effective branding.

While not the catch-all solution, building a cohesive brand identity and strategy is pivotal for any brand’s success in the overseas market.

Where your brand may be able to get by within China’s market ecosystem, the market can look vastly different in another country. To be visible, stand out from the competition, and gain trust and resonance within another country’s market, your brand needs a strong brand identity and strategy that makes sense within that country’s marketplace.

In this post we will show why developing a brand identity and strategy is key for avoiding the common pitfalls of Chinese brands that have come and gone before.  We will highlight the shortcomings of using a traditional ‘Chinese’ approach to branding, and how it can hurt brands trying to penetrate foreign markets, and also show examples of successful branding, and the ways in which having strong branding can help your brand moving forward.

Why do so many Chinese brands fail?

A quick search on Amazon will reveal several generic Chinese brands that are really just brands in name. Enter in a search for any household electronic for example, and for any one search result of a well-known brand you will see several other generic Chinese brands populating the search results. Click on the product page and you may find some basic specs on the device plus a few more flashy photos. Dig a little deeper into any of those brands, and you will probably find a lack of web presence, brand identity or consistency of messaging or visual elements- a hastily stitched together vague picture of a brand, slapped onto a generic product.

So how do these brands stand out from the established ones, the ones that the consumer was probably searching for? Moreso, how do these brands stand out amongst each other, the countless other faceless Chinese brands populating the search results? The truth is, they don’t.

Let’s face it, the “Made in China” label has been synonymous for poor quality in countries like the US for decades now. This is certainly an unfair characterization, especially as manufacturing continues to improve, but unfortunately, public opinion is still slowly catching up to the reality. When one sees a Chinese brand without any sense of identity, many consumers’ first reaction is a combination of suspicion and dismissiveness. Unfair stereotypes aside, without strong brand presence, many Chinese brands are doomed to continued faceless anonymity among the sea of other generic and ultimately unsuccessful brands. This isn’t just limited to e-commerce, as Chinese brands across all sectors in foreign markets struggle to create a cohesive brand identity, and often meet the same fate.

Why do overseas Chinese brands tend to have such ineffective branding?

The reality is, most Chinese brands don’t have as deep of a brand strategy, backed by brand management systems and tools compared to Chinese brands compared to successful global brands. This can be attributed in part to the lack of motivation for Chinese brands to develop branding, at least not beyond the context of the Chinese marketplace.

Branding as it’s understood in most Western countries, is simply not as high of a priority for most Chinese brands in China’s market. Oftentimes, larger enterprises are current or ex state-owned enterprises whose success can largely be attributed to government assistance in some form or another. Likewise, with the high growth over the last few decades, much of a brand’s success in China has been a matter of delivering on manufacturing and distribution, not branding. Adding to that, many larger brands compete as B2B players, where branding needs aren’t so obvious.

Consequently, many Chinese companies not only lack the talent to develop and implement brand strategy, but also lack the interest to do so at the top. Most high-level managers are more focused on the end result of making money, and are often unwilling to invest the time and resources into presenting a more professional package and differentiation from competitors, key for any brand’s long-term success overseas. As a whole, many don’t have much experience in understanding overseas marketplaces. Oftentimes the mindset is different, without the instinct to build a global business based on strong branding and developing relationships with customers.

So what exactly is successful branding? Let’s take a look at two local players, first a smaller, e-commerce brand, and second of a larger, more established player.


Dyper is an all-natural bamboo-based diaper brand, marketed at the eco-conscious middle-class consumer. The brand has built up a strong customer base and market presence on the back of a clear brand image and strong brand marketing. From its minimal, recyclable packaging, to its web design, brand messaging, news releases, and promotions, to the diapers themselves, Dyper communicates a cohesive brand image between its visual and verbal elements, representing a no-frills, natural experience that appeals to a large group of consumers. Furthermore, with its educational resources, strong social media presence, and subscription service, Dyper builds a sense of community with its users beyond its products.


If you’ve never heard of Dyper, then you’ve certainly heard of Lululemon. The yoga apparel giant is certainly known for its high-quality materials, but really, the brand’s widespread success can largely be attributed to the well-oiled machine that is its branding. From its comprehensive visual identity (VI) to its messaging, to how things are run in the stores, Lululemon’s brand goes beyond just the name, slogan, logo or products. It’s a lifestyle.

Everything with Lululemon’s branding is to make customers feel like its clothing is made just for them, and that they belong. When you walk into a store, you are immediately greeted by its fit employees, fully decked out in Lululemon gear. Many of its stores offer free yoga classes on Sundays, essentially making it a hub within the community for yoga practitioners.

Lululemon has brand ambassadors all over the world, usually yoga instructors and athletes that embody what they stand for. If you look online, Lululemon’s digital content is top class, not only on its website, but also on its social media platforms. Its blog content is regularly updated by its team and ambassadors and covers all topics that fit within the Lululemon lifestyle, from yoga videos, to healthy recipes, to goal setting.

Its YouTube channel features entertaining yoga content, including ‘sh*t yogi’s say’, and its Instagram and Pinterest feeds are full of photogenic people happily enjoying the yoga lifestyle.

So what can you do for your branding?

English language website access

First thing’s first. What does Lululemon and Dyper, and just about every successful brand have in common? A proper website.

It may seem like common sense to some readers, but the reality is, with the existing social media landscape in China, most brands don’t prioritize their website as the front of their business. This often translates to poorly designed websites lacking in united visual elements, information, and navigability. For the overseas audience whose main impression is formed from a brand’s home page, such a poorly designed website can quickly kill any interest one might have had in a brand.

Another major problem is a lack of proper translation into English. Being the lingua-franca, communicating your brand in English is pivotal for reaching a wider overseas audience. Unfortunately, brands often stop at basic translation, leading to Chinglish issues aplenty, further clouding the brand’s message and damaging its credibility. Which is why when building an English website, all translations should be vetted by an actual native English speaker.

Know your audience

The problem with many Chinese brands expanding overseas is they are still focused on the Chinese consumer. While Chinese companies would like to know more about their target consumers, they often lack a systematic and scientific approach to understanding them. Moreover, oftentimes this research is done without differing to local professionals that actually understand the market.

In researching your audience, it isn’t enough to understand all consumers within that given country. You have to know specifically who your product is for. This means understanding their values, where they spend their time online, and their expectations for brands like your own.

Be easy to research

By their nature, consumers in more established markets like the U.S. tend to meet new brands with suspicion. They like to put in the research before deciding whether or not to purchase anything from you. Your brand should be an open book. Increasing brand awareness requires not only a website and social media, but also a smart PR strategy.

This means creating and posting content through other channels such as press releases, industry and general media, influencer marketing and videos, as well as discounts, promotions or other campaigns to bring in curious customers.

Build a community

Content and image alone is not enough to bring in more customers and build loyalty. You have to create an engaging community around your brand to capture customers’ attention and to get them to want to stick around. This means not just focusing on your product, but also your mission. You should give your customers a place to interact with each other, talk about your products, and rally around your mission.

What can iSpider Media do to help?

We hope this article can give you a good idea of the level of branding needed to succeed overseas. With that said, it’s up to you to properly utilize the resources to properly plan and execute a successful campaign. At iSpider Media we help brands looking to take the next step into the overseas market through PR and branding services. With unique insight from years of experience, a native English speaking content team, and extensive global resources, we can develop a PR and branding strategy built on engaging, in-depth content to enhance your brand’s visibility and create a lasting resonance with your overseas customers. If you’re ready to expand overseas, it’s time to build up your brand!