'Made in China' gains acceptance
Updated: 2012-06-16 02:18
By Ariel Tung in New York (China Daily)
Americans viewing Chinese brands more positively: survey
"Made in China" is a phrase Americans know mainly as an indicator of pervasive offshore manufacturing. But increasingly it's being attached to products originating in China from domestic companies — and gaining acceptance in the West.
A recent survey by Li-Ning, a leading Chinese athletic footwear and apparel company, found that a growing number of consumers in the United States are willing to buy products of Chinese origin.
Li-Ning Co, which was founded by 1984 Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Li Ning, set out in 2011 to launch a sportswear line in the US. The Beijing-based company partnered with Acquity Group, an e-commerce and marketing consultant, to help expand its US consumer base.
They came up with Digital Li-Ning, a joint venture with a $10 million investment that entailed the launch of an online retail site, www.Li-Ning.com, and development of a new apparel collection for the US market. Digital Li-Ning is based in Chicago.
According to the study, there has been a significant shift in US consumers' perception of Chinese brands over the past five years. About 62 percent of Americans said they were more likely to purchase products from Chinese companies today than they were in 2007.
Two consumer groups, those aged 18 to 25 years old and those with annual household incomes of over $225,000, were most likely to regard Chinese brands favorably.
"The openness among the young and upper-income groups is a key part of our strategy, as it provides an opportunity for us to tap into these markets and tailor our products to fit their needs," said Craig Heisner, Li-Ning's vice-president of sales, marketing and merchandising.
More than half of the survey respondents, according to Li-Ning, said they believe the quality of Chinese brands will measure up to US-branded goods in the next five years.
Electronics had the highest favorability rating among categories of Chinese products, with appliance manufacturer Haier and PC maker Lenovo the best-known companies.
Li-Ning was particularly encouraged by young people's positive perception of Chinese brands. It is "a positive indicator that our brand strategy is right on target", Heisner said.
"We know they are more open to our digital-only approach and prefer to interact with companies via digital channels," he said. "The same opportunity lies with the more affluent market, as the survey results indicate they are more familiar with Chinese culture and products, making them more open to what Li-Ning has to offer."
Shaynah Kowitz, 28, said her assessment of a product was based on its quality, not where it was made.
"One Chinese brand may be of good quality, another Chinese brand may not be," she told China Daily. "I don't judge a brand by its country. I think Chinese brands will, over time, gain recognition in the US. Most products we have are made in China anyway."
Dana Sease, 25, said she visited China with her family about two years ago, and they were happy with the Chinese products they bought there.
"I think Chinese products will gain more recognition over time. The Chinese economy is doing very well," she said.
Ann Lee, a China expert based in New York, said she wasn't surprised by the results of the Li-Ning study.
"The perception that products made by Chinese companies are of poor quality is not just limited to Americans — Europeans think that way, too. They worry about counterfeit products," said Lee, who is a senior fellow at Demos, a left-leaning think tank, as well as an instructor at New York University and author of the recent book What the US Can Learn From China.
"The older generation has that notion, and it's harder to change their mind. Younger people who don't have that mindset are more receptive toward Chinese products," she said.
"Over time, Americans should be more open as Chinese products continue to improve."
Still, China lacks a "Top 100" global brand, said Crocker Coulson, president of CCG Investor Relations, which advises many Chinese companies.
"China remains a 'hidden dragon' in that respect," he said. "Brands can only be earned over time. You've got to build relationships with the media, financial markets and government. All these have to be synchronized in delivering the message."
Chinese companies are trying to learn from Western giants such as Procter & Gamble Co about brand-building, according to Eric Schmidt, founder and president of China Entrepreneurs, a Beijing consulting firm.
"People think of China as a manufacturing base. They don't understand the quality of Chinese products and brands. Over the next 10 years, things will change because Chinese companies learn so fast. They will be able to absorb those marketing skills," said Schmidt.
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