Perspective

French brands: succeeding in China

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Fred Raillard

Fred Raillard, co-founder of Fred & Farid, an independent digital agency, set out four years ago to conquer the Chinese market. Now the host of his own weekly social media podcast and the boss of a booming business, he shares with us the keys to success in the Middle Kingdom.

China: land of opportunity for French companies

Fred moved to Shanghai with his family in 2012 as he set up Fred & Farid’s new offices. “French firms have a part to play. China is the market of tomorrow and boasts enormous potential”, he says.

First off there is the sheer size of the market. Fred tells us that “China has 700 million internet users, all sharing the same time zone, all speaking one language – Mandarin”. The rapidly expanding middle class is making this market more appealing to foreign brands, even as the government’s ten-year plans are supporting increased purchasing power and domestic consumption. This potential is coupled with the market’s receptiveness to French brands. “Politically, we are not seeing any counter-signals from Beijing, while on a cultural level, there is no French bashing to match the treatment sometimes handed out to the United States for example. In fact, there are plenty of similarities between Latin and Chinese culture when it comes to lifestyle. Yet despite these supportive conditions, few French firms try their hand at setting up in China”, says Fred.

Their reluctance stems from the fact that Western companies simply don’t know enough about the country. As Fred points out: “China is a market unlike any other, and you can’t hope to thrive here unless you embrace its values”.

Empathy and curiosity: values that need to be taken on board   

Empathy, says Fred, is absolutely vital: “The emotional dimension is very important here. You have to take the first step and show signs of affection and kindness, which are usually very well received”. With this in mind, he underlines the importance of understanding the Chinese emotional calendar. Dates such as Chinese New Year, the Golden Weeks but also Christmas, Saint Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day occupy a key place in Chinese society. “Tapping into these moments is a major factor in building success. To coincide with the October Golden Week holiday – one of two annual weeks of leave granted by the government – we created a digital campaign for Etam based around the concept of fake holidays – #Fakation. It racked up more than 380 million media impressions!”

Another value that businesses need to adopt is curiosity, a crucial attribute when adapting to a regularly disrupted market. “China loves new things, and everything goes very fast. Companies have to be responsive, even if that means shelving projects that they have been working on for a long time. You have to be flexible and know when to give something up”, Fred explains.

In the digital world, youth is king       

A second key factor in success is perfect command of digital technology, particularly in communication. “The Chinese are well ahead of the curve in terms of usage, and 85% of the brands that they talk about are digital! Communicating without digital is a no-goer”, Fred says. Where does the enthusiasm come from? It reflects the huge influence on Chinese society exerted by the post-nineties generation. “Young people are the largest group and wield the most clout on the web. So even if you are selling to older targets, your approach has to be ‘millennial-proof’.”

To win over this target group, Fred claims, three major aspects have to be taken into account: “digital insights provided by internet users, online language and individuality”. The last of these is the most important in Fred’s eyes: “Young people attach huge importance to individuality. Although they like to be connected, they, unlike their elders, are allergic to the idea of being part of a collective. Our #WatchMe campaign for the Taobao site was all about this concept. We handed the floor to 90 young Chinese influencers and showcased their originality to dispel the image of uniformity”. How did it pan out? “The campaign was very well received, getting more than 150 million views on Youku, China’s YouTube, and generating over 600 million media impressions.”

These results jive with the agency’s goals and set the bar for any entrepreneur looking to make their name in China. Fred is clear: “You have to be a visionary and think big! Be bold and take your opportunities! Our rivals will not hesitate to do the same!”

The last word   

When we ask him for a last piece of advice for a company looking to set up in the country, Fred says straightaway: “Learn to love China, of course! That is far and away the most important thing and will set you on the road to success. Many people reckon they understand China, but it is a country that always has something new to teach you!”

 

Consumption | November 2016