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Fashioning Chinese brands for Chinese market

FOR the past 15 years, American marketer Mark Greiz has been advising foreign companies on branding in China. Local companies too seek the laowai brander's advice about getting Chinese to spend, reports Zhang Qian.

Bags, watches, shoes, Gucci, Prada" ring in Mark Greiz's ears as annoying street touts try to sell him fashion knockoffs while he walks to his job teaching students how to brand fashion in the China market.

After helping many foreign fashion companies build up their brands in China for 15 years, Greiz has added university lecturer to his credits. The American teaches at the IFA Paris' Shanghai campus at the Shanghai University of Engineering and Science. One course covers fashion marketing communications, the other business strategy.

"I understand local consumers taste preferences and the intricacies of bringing a product to market," says Greiz, who comes from New York City.

His students come from all over the world: Europe, the United States, China. Many have ambitions to launch their own brands in China or back home.

In the very first class, Greiz tells them that no matter what country they live in, if they want to work in the fashion world, whether in merchandising, in marketing, design or sales, they need to understand the China market.

"China is no longer just the factory of the world," explains Greiz, "and since the growing middle class is driving consumer spending, China is also become the shopping mall of the world as well."

Greiz sensed the China potential about 17 years ago when he landed in Shanghai.

Armed with an MBA from the University of Hawaii in 1991, Greiz moved to Tokyo as a market researcher for a consumer products-consulting firm. He's fluent in Japanese. In 1992 he left the firm and decided to visit Japan's neighbor to the west. Shanghai was his first stop.

"Shanghai was a very different city then," says Greiz, "no Metro, no Oriental Pearl Tower, no Xintiandi, no towering monoliths in Lujiazui, no glamorous nightlife on the Bund - and not many people who could speak English well."

But Greiz was gripped by the possibilities. He taught himself basic Chinese in two months by saying indoors, listening to tapes and reading. Because of his fluency in Japanese, he swiftly got a job selling Japanese textile machinery to local state-owned textile enterprises and negotiating JV manufacturing contracts.

The textile world led to the fashion world.

Doing business in China was a totally different experience back then. There were lots of regulations, but at the same time everything was possible, there were no rules in business.

Many foreigners at the time complained that China's regulations made their marketing difficult. Greiz disagrees.

"They (the complainers) knew little about China, like local culture and customs and refused to learn," he says. "If you don't even know how to communicate with the people, how will you expect them to trust you and cooperate?"

Though many Westerners are still annoyed by the traditional ways of negotiation of some Chinese, involving lots of drinking contests and feasts, Greiz calls it part of the culture and a customary way of seeking and gaining trust.

Much has changed, obviously, and Chinese people are attaching more importance to the quality of products than to how many cups of alcohol a prospective business partner can down.

In the past 15 years, many foreign fashion firms sought Greiz's advice on building brands in the Chinese market. His recent customers include Dashing Diva, a US nail salon chain.

Many Chinese fashion firms also go to Greiz for help in branding. Because of increased production costs, market saturation and a squeeze on profit margin, Chinese original equipment manufacturers are seeking ways to be more competitive in the changing marketplace.

Many Chinese companies that previously manufactured for other labels are now launching their own brands for domestic and international markets.

Since marketing is a relatively new field in China, Greiz has been consulted on developing strategies to target the Chinese consumer market. That involved understanding thought processes, the psyche and what motivates people to purchase.

"Good design alone cannot help you sell your products; you need to have a comprehensive marketing strategy for success in today's China market," he says. That includes advertising, packaging, interior design, customer service, loyalty programs and a thorough channel distribution strategy.

The market is no longer just in the big tier-1 cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou (capital city of Guangdong Province). It's the smaller tier-2 and tier-3 cities that are showing the largest growth, and it takes flexibility and a clear vision to develop those markets, says Greiz.

Though some local companies still hesitate to invest big money in marketing, many are convinced of its importance but don't know what their customers really care about.

For example, a Chinese customer of Greiz's wants to build up a jewelry brand. He wants to brand it with a French word as he believes that many Chinese are fond of French luxuries and France has cachet. Greiz tells him no - only a Chinese name can help him expand in the market today.

Chinese companies can start to feel proud about their made-in-China label, says Greiz, and it is no longer a negative for a brand to be made in China.

"A great many Chinese are confident about themselves and proud of their country today," he says, citing the Beijing Olympics. Even if they were not sports fans, they were thrilled by every game with Chinese athletes. Some flew all the way to Beijing to see it live.

Mark Greiz

Nationality: American


Profession: Adjunct lecturer of fashion marketing and China market consultant


Description of self:

Worldly, creative, passionate.

Favorite place: Yunnan Province.

Strangest sight:

A poor guy chasing his chicken down the street.

Worse experience:

Missing my flight in Pudong due to traffic (twice).

Ideal weekend: Anytime with sun and without 100-percent humidity.Motto for life: It you don't try, you will never find out the outcome.How to improve Shanghai:

The left side of the escalator is for passing and right side for standing.

Advice to newcomers:

Don't worry, it just smells funky.


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