Let’s say you have a spectacular product that has celebrated success in the Western market. But when you look into the real statistics of world population, it appears to be rather sad that the US only accounts for just under 5% (and we thought the US was really, big). Meanwhile, China alone owns almost 20% of the world’s population, whilst India comes second with 17% – these two countries alone make up to more than a third of the world’s population! Is it any wonder why so many businesses are looking into tapping their markets?
It’s Really, Not That Simple
Many of us would like to think that globalisation has had positive effects. It has opened so many doors of opportunity, with more people making the effort to bridge the gap in communication by picking up (at the very least) a second language, wanting to reach out to the rest of the world. Yet, language is the very thing that can make or break a product – even though Pepsi has a worldwide reputation, they did not realise until sometime later that their slogan “Come Alive With Pepsi”, was literally lost in translation in China, where people took it as “Bring Your Ancestors Back From The Grave”.
This may have a light-hearted impact on the consumers, but what more to say businesses who tried their marketing strategies but failed and somehow also managed to offend their foreign counterparts? It was reported in The Daily Telegraph (UK) that a British property developer Keith Darby that he and his family are being prevented from leaving China after a joint venture with a state-backed company went ‘sour’.
“Inflict Injury On Oneself To Win The Enemy’s Trust”
To the Chinese, business is very similar to warfare and they usually refer to their ancient text for advice. The saying above is one of the 36 Stratagems, a collection of Chinese Proverbs used to illustrate military strategy and tactics. With most Chinese business dealings, it is best to understand their ways first (your part of self-damage) before you try taking on the challenge – something Google failed to look properly into before they ultimately offended the Chinese when they tried their market. Here are some tips to help you build some awareness towards the Chinese culture in business:
- Being late for an appointment is a serious offence. Chinese business hours are usually 0800-1700 hours, Monday to Saturday, where many take a break between 1200-1400 hours, where almost everything is ‘shut down’ during this period (including phones and lifts).
- Dress conservatively. Combinations of bright or garish colours of any kind are considered inadequate, though do take note that white is the colour of mourning, whilst red suggest power, prosperity and authority – the preferred colour in China. Also, having gold writing on your business card, double-sided with simplified or traditional Chinese translation are a plus.
- Unless you already have ‘guangxi’ (personal relationship) with your Chinese counterpart, gifts are officially considered bribery and an illegal act in the country.
(For more tips, click to read Culture and Etiquette Matters in China.)