With more than 550 million affluent consumers, Canadian brands looking to expanding to the Middle Kingdom need to rethink their A game. Some Canadian brands have nailed their brand and marketing in China, whilst others have fallen through the cracks. Competition has gotten stiff the last few years. With international borders still being restricted, domestic brands have a clear cultural advantage and international brands already established in China have a head start.
But it’s not too late for Canadian brands wanting to enter China and grab a piece of the China pie. Let’s look at three Canadian brands who are doing well in the market, including who they are, and why they’ve been so successful.
China has been a tea-drinking culture for 2,000 years, and known around the world for its expertise in how to grow and serve tea. However, since the mid-2000’s, more and more Chinese are embracing coffee as their drink of choice. With the coffee culture picking up steam across the country, setting up shop in China was a no-brainer for one of Canada’s most iconic chains. Tim Hortons, or “Timmies” to its Canadian fans, is the embodiment of the country. Timmies is considered friendly, wholesome and community-minded – values shared by local consumers.
These shared values and growth of the coffee culture means that China brings lots of opportunity for Tim Hortons. As of 2021 it had opened 150 new locations across China, with plans to open 200 more. The company has also caught the eyes (and financial backing) from investors like Tencent, opening an esports café together in partnership. It seems Tim Hortons is there to stay.
Arc’teryx has been doing business in China for over 15 years. After first selling through a local sales agent, the company now has brick-and-mortar stores in major cities like Shanghai and Beijing and 240 points of sale across China.
Originally targeting a niche market of extreme outdoor adventurers, Arc’teryx has proven itself as a company known for quality and lifestyle products. The brand continues to establish itself as a mainstay high performance sports brand in China, working with notable social media influencers for International Women’s Day 2022 and creating exciting and engaging content on Chinese social media.
Arc’teryx continues to connect with Chinese consumers through innovative retail experiences, like the pop-up space we recently created for them in Shanghai. The retail space brings the forest to the city, complete with a sun that rises and sets and a soothing mist. For consumers who yearn for nature, it’s the perfect atmosphere to explore Arc’teryx products.
Lululemon is another brand taking advantage of the growing size of the affluent consumer market in China. The company recently announced that it expects China to become its second largest market in the world by 2026 and plans to triple the number of stores from 71 to 220 by 2027. The key to its success is strong market research, and an understanding that more consumers are beginning to see fitness more as a lifestyle choice. To connect with consumers, Lululemon has been big on community–building initiatives since their launch in 2013. Part of their initial success was appointing local brand ambassadors such as Min Lin, a yoga instructor and member of the national ping pong team, Ao Lin Wang, an outstanding diving athlete, and many more influential Chinese athletes and key opinion leaders. These brand ambassadors host online yoga and fitness classes (some reaching as many as 10,000 participants for one class), attend events and ensure the brand is ever-present on Chinese social media.
From online to in-store, Lululemon is making sure Chinese consumers know they share their commitment to living healthier. Check out the customized wall art piece we completed for their flagship Taikoohui store in Shanghai.
What is the common factor that led these brands to success?
So why did these brands succeed when so many others have failed? Simply put, it’s because they adapted their brand and market initiatives for local consumers.
Understanding the uniqueness of the Chinese market is central to the success for any international company coming to the country. When Tim Horton’s set up its first location in Beijing in 2019, the company made sure to adapt its menu for Chinese tastes. By offering green tea matcha doughnuts and salted egg Timbits, the brand has shown it understands the uniqueness of Chinese tastes, while still maintaining its “Canadian-ness”. Arc’teryx made sure to choose and register a Chinese name (始祖鸟, which translates to Archaeopteryx) as soon as it began to sell its products in China, to ensure it could market with a solid brand that would be meaningful to consumers. And Lululemon is capitalizing on Chinese consumers’ renewed desire for a healthy lifestyle by organizing outdoor activities like yoga.
Is your brand ready for China?
With solid market research, relevant branding strategy and an understanding of local cultural nuances, Canadian brands can thrive in China. Many brands want to keep their global DNA – we get it. But these brands show you can keep your brand identity while reflecting the culture of the local market. Localising brand strategies for the local market is essential to ensuring the international success. Check out our “Is your Brand Ready for China” Check List.
Ready to expand into China? Contact us today for an initial consultation!
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