The miraculous transition of China is happening, but it may take the entire century to complete.

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

China is in the midst of rapid growth that will continue to transform the country into an economic powerhouse throughout this century. As a Canadian, I find it fascinating to see elements that are ahead and behind the western world.

Old world versus future world

There are many layers of complexity within China, whether cultures, tiers of cities or the stark differences in generations. The older adults are living the simple lifestyle they learned in the 20th century. It is common to see 50-year-olds riding basic bicycles to work. Or see people eating at small local eateries that do not look or feel safe in western standards.

However, young adults are not only modern; they appear to be living in the future, beyond western standards. Everything is app based, e-commerce driven, global payments and QR codes for purchasing or learning more. While we have the odd retailer specific payment app here in the West, we do not yet have globally accepted pay apps that stretch across all retailers.

Alibaba is a brand we all need to watch

On my two most recent trips to China, I have noticed a considerable decline in retailers, restaurants or even or taxis that take Visa. Everyone is using Alipay, linked closely to the Alibaba e-commerce giant (market capitalization of $350B) who could take on Amazon (market capitalization of $450B) on the world stage. 

alipayAs much as we in the west are fascinated with Amazon, do you think you understand Alibaba enough to learn from them? Alibaba’s market capitalization has gone from $200B up to $356B in the last 12 months. A 78% gain in 12 months. Wow. 

The social media app of choice is WeChat with almost a billion active users. WeChat provides text messaging, hold-to-talk voice messaging, broadcast messaging, video conferencing, video games, sharing of photographs and videos, and location sharing. You can even exchange contacts with people nearby via Bluetooth. Like Alipay, WeChat has a payment service that wants to be considered the digital wallet. When will these global payment systems become mainstream in the west? And who will own it?  

Income disparity is vast, but signs of improving

In the last ten years, the average income for China has tripled. The problem is that it is still under USD 10,000, compared with over $45,000 for many of the western nations it competes with. Within any statistics in China, there are layers of complexity. The most significant layer of complexity is around the disparity of income levels. 

While people of the west are trying to figure out solutions of rich versus poor, the evidence is even more overwhelming in China. With a high growth economy, they are starting to see the trickle-down impact of wealth, helping the creation of a real middle class in China.

It is expected that from 2012 to 2022, those in China making more than $34K US will increase from 3% currently up to 9%, and those in the growing middle class ($16K to $34K) will increase from 14% up to 54%.  These are huge jumps that will likely continue for the entire century. Wealth in China

The growing professional workforce will be the most significant force of transformation of the economy. Reminiscent of America in the 1950s, Chinese parents are investing in the education for their children, as they realize their children will be richer 20 years from now than they are today. This was the root of the American dream. 

The rapid growth of cities appears well planned

Shenzhen ChinaI loved my recent trip to Shenzhen, just across the water from Hong Kong. On a daily basis, thousands and thousands of Hong Kong residents stream across the border to work in Shenzhen. It’s not an easy commute going through border patrols and customs, to and from work each day.

Shenzhen is quickly transforming into a beautiful city. One of the most underestimated elements of China are the trees throughout the streets. When a westerner would think about cities of 25-30 million, we would normally think it must be a concrete jungle. Shenzhen in China is lined with gorgeous and rich trees. Similar to Shanghai of the French concession area. Keep in mind, Shenzhen did not even exist 20 years ago, and today, it is home to 20-25 million people. This city is benefiting from smart urban planning.

Luxury brands are everywhere

Within the city, they have created neighborhoods for the rich, with some of the nicest malls you will find. Evidence of the disparity of income is everywhere. Shenzhen MallsI went through an affluent shopping mall in Shenzhen that would rival any high-end mall in America. Hugo Boss, Coach, Sephora, Rolex, Lululemon. You name a brand, and this mall had it.

I browsed for prices and could not find any deals. Imported goods in China are a sign of prestige, yet you will have to pay for it through higher prices.

There are 2,600 Starbucks throughout China. If these high-end items are considered badge brands in the west, imagine what a badge it is to confirm your social status as one who has made it in China.

Further evidence was the cars on the road including Mercedes, BMW’s, Range Rovers, Ferrari’s and Audi’s. While China has recently become the #1 car market in the world, only those in the elite class are driving cars.

Bikes are still a reality

Most western cities have bike rentals, where you slide in your visa and take a gentle ride to see the sights. In Europe and North America, it’s something tourists would use. In China, these bikes offer a much more functional need state, and this is seen as a business that has been a disruption to transportation so that people can get to and from work. The bikes are not locked, and they do not accept Visa. People here use WeChat or Alipay payment apps on their phones, to scan the barcode on the bike and then pay and go where you need to go.

5 Questions for the future

As I look at the next 80+ years for China, here are the questions in my mind

  1. Will China make the shift a product-driven economy to a brand-driven economy? 
  2. Can locally grown brands begin to push back against the influx of the imported brands?
  3. How will China close the gap on Marketing talent, to be strong on strategy, analytics, brand positioning, brand planning and creative marketing execution?
  4. Will China be able to move some of their successful platforms such as WeChat or Alibaba into the western markets? Will we ever see a global battle between Alibaba and Amazon? 
  5. How long can China sustain such a growth mode before they need to make adjustments, and how will they handle the normal ups and downs of growth and recessions?

Here’s a Powerpoint presentation on how to get how to create a beloved brand, something for China to consider as they shift from product-driven economy to a brand-driven.

And, keep an eye out for the launch of our first book. We will be launching beloved brands in April of 2018.

beloved brands book

Beloved Brands: Who are we?

At Beloved Brands, our purpose is to help brands find a new pathway to growth. We believe that the more love your brand can generate with your most cherished consumers, the more power, growth, and profitability you will realize in the future.

The best solutions are likely inside you already, but struggle to come out. Our unique engagement tools are the backbone of our strategy workshops. These tools will force you to think differently so you can freely generate many new ideas. At Beloved Brands, we bring our challenging voice to help you make decisions and refine every potential idea.

We help brands find growth

We start by defining a brand positioning statement, outlining the desired target, consumer benefits and support points the brand will stand behind. And then, we build a big idea that is simple and unique enough to stand out in the clutter of the market, motivating enough to get consumers to engage, buy and build a loyal following with your brand. Finally, the big idea must influence employees to personally deliver an outstanding consumer experience, to help move consumers along the journey to loving your brand.

We will help you write a strategic brand plan for the future, to get everyone in your organization to follow. It starts with an inspiring vision that pushes your team to imagine a brighter future. We use our strategic thinking tools to help you make strategic choices on where to allocate your brand’s limited resources. We work with your team to build out project plans, creative briefs and provide advice on marketing execution.

To learn more about our coaching, click on this link: Beloved Brands Strategic Coaching

We make Brand Leaders smarter

We believe that investing in your marketing people will pay off. With smarter people behind your brands will drive higher revenue growth and profits. With our brand management training program, you will see smarter strategic thinking, more focused brand plans, brand positioning, better creative briefs that steer your agencies, improved decision-making on marketing execution, smarter analytical skills to assess your brand’s performance and a better management of the profitability of the brand.

To learn more about our training programs, click on this link: Beloved Brands Training

If you need our help, email me at or call me at 416 885 3911

Graham Robertson bio