Storytelling for your brand in China – how to get it right

Every marketing professional knows that storytelling is a key aspect of building a brand and connecting with customers. The need for effective storytelling is even more important in a sophisticated, highly competitive market such as China, where customers are well-informed, technologically driven and spoilt for choice when it comes to the brands they wish to shop with. But China has an ancient and profound connection to the art of storytelling, and this offers Western brands a powerful channel for success if they can master it!

For those Western brands that can get storytelling right in China, there is the chance to create a narrative that really appeals to target Chinese customers and sets their brand apart to build conversions and loyalty over time. The trick is to connect with customers on an emotional basis; using a consistent and well-built narrative that brings products and services to life, and which engages the audience on a personal level to form part of the brand itself.

To attract Chinese customers to the stories that your brand will tell, it’s vital to understand what your target audience wants, so you can adapt your storytelling style accordingly. This process can take time, energy and ‘trial and error’ to get correct. Here are the main things to know.

Do your research

It’s important to understand the unique dimensions and attributes of your brand – particularly those universal attributes that you promote in any market – and to understand how certain messages, attributes, images and other brand elements can be localised to meet your audience in China. For example, Disney uses particular characters that resonate with Chinese fans and lets these characters tell its brand story. Be very mindful of local culture and nuance here, particularly to avoid causing any unintentional offence with inappropriate wording, imagery or symbols.

Know what you want to say

Once you’ve defined the elements that make up your brand, you can begin to identify the stories and values that you want to share with your target audience. This can be done via a blend of works and imagery, or design. For example:

Pick your storytelling theme

A theme is a great way to focus your storytelling narrative. Three of the common brand storytelling themes are ‘spectacular technology’, ‘the love story’ and ‘the success story’, as follows:

  1. Burberry went all out with the high-technology and spectacular experience theme in China, with events that included a hologram-filled fashion show and a multi-sensory flagship store that aimed to bring the feel of London to Shanghai with high-tech theatrics, storytelling, culture and heritage.
  2. The Love Story has hugely enduring appeal in China, and it works especially well for some brands. For example, Chaton, a French lingerie brand, has used a highly personal narrative around love to build its brand successfully in China.
  3. The Success Story is another hugely popular theme in China, and Chanel has used the personal triumph story of Coco Chanel to share its brand with great effect.

Choose your key messages

A key part of successful storytelling is to use consistent words and phrases that encapsulate the values and messaging of your brand. Budweiser has done this successfully in China, by using language that is friendly, fun, positive and enthusiastic. The brand uses this language to communicate its values of ambition, togetherness and freedom to its target Chinese audience, sharing the idea that everything is better when people come together (with a Bud in hand!)

Consider the use of a mascot

Tencent’s famous penguin mascot is a great example of how characters or mascots can be used to create an emotional connection to a brand, boost recognition and give a voice to storytelling. Western brands may wish to consider the use of mascots to bring their messages to life with personality and charm. As ever, remember to localise!

Foster trust

A key part of branding in China is the element of trust. With so many competing brands in the marketplace, Chinese customers want to build a strong relationship with the brands that they choose to connect with. It’s a smart strategy to then invest in this relationship and focus on that sense of trust with your customers. Do this by delivering on what your brand claims to be and do. Invest in good Chinese-speaking customer service. Always reply with thanks or support to reviews. Be active on your Chinese social media channels and find ways to thank and recognise your customers, whether that’s by including a little holiday token in their delivery package (perhaps a free seasonal gift wrap or a branded sticker), or by hosting regular incentives such as competitions and promotions.

Be consistent

When you begin to plan your storytelling strategy and its content plan, remember to be consistent in your efforts, especially if you plan to launch your storytelling as part of a broader marketing campaign. This means localising your digital assets and ensuring your digital ecosystem is integrated and optimised for your target Chinese audience. Every landing page should naturally flow towards your intended call to action, to maximise conversions and provide a fantastic experience for your Chinese customers. Consider too your offline elements. For example, if you have a physical presence in China – perhaps a shopfront, travel branch or destination or educational experience – check that your storytelling is consistently represented here too.

Get help

Storytelling in China can be an extremely powerful marketing strategy, but it can also be a complex one to get right, particularly with the necessary elements of localisation, targeting and cultural sensitivity. A Chinese marketing agency can help you craft a powerful marketing campaign with the right storytelling to engage your target audience. Market Me China has a highly experienced team of digital marketing professionals with native language skills, ready to help you achieve success in this exciting, lucrative market. Whether you’re a new brand seeking to break into the China market or a brand with an existing presence, looking to grow, our team are here to help. Please contact us to find out more.