What is China’s problem?

Simon Young at the University of Auckland Business School
Simon Young at the University of Auckland Business School

It’s a tough question for every entrepreneur: what is the problem that needs solving?

Last night I joined a University of Auckland MBA cohort as they prepare to go on a fact-finding mission to China for 5 kiwi brands.

I was part of a panel brought in to hear their plans, ask questions and provide advice.

The five companies, all in the food and beverage sector, faced essentially the same BIG question facing exporters to China today:

What is China’s problem?

And the follow-on question: how can we solve it?

It’s an obvious question to China veterans and MBA students steeped in the ways of Lean Startup. But for the clients of these MBA students, for those based in Auckland whose job is to ensure high quality product and globally consistent brand messages and, most of all, increasing sales volume.

It’s a tough cross-cultural journey to take a New Zealand brand into China. But it’s also often a considerable journey from our products, services, and KPIs into the world of our customer.

The students I met tonight were asking the right question: what is China’s problem. Are you asking the right question?

If you’re facing the beginning of your China journey, and not sure where to start, here are 5 things to consider:

  1. China is not one market. It’s one country, for sure, but it is many markets. One American writer has broken it down to 9 distinct geographies, but you’ve also got to consider demographics and psychographics. There’s a lot of China to be had!
  2. Start small and simple. While the MBA students were enthusiastic, one observation my fellow panelists had was that the scope of work for a 10 week project (and one-week field trip) was too large. It’s really tempting to try to eat the whole elephant, but doing so can slow us down instead of speeding us up.
  3. Balance data and drama, stats and storytelling. Quantitative data is very important, but it doesn’t replace the importance of storytelling because emotions affect us powerfully. Stories and emotions are the carriers and meaning-makers of data. Data alone will not drive any significant strategic move.
  4. Stay focused on the consumer’s problem, not yours. MBA students are given a brief and a mandate by their clients. They need to be courageous and willing to report back on the truth they find in market – even if that means saying the market isn’t ready for the product in its current form.
  5. Expect the unexpected. Western food and beverages are increasingly popular in China, but not always in the way we expect. From honey in sachet form to the interesting pinot noir/mountain dew mix, we can’t expect our products to be consumed in the same way in another market. We can fight it, or we can learn from it.

What problems are you facing in discovering your customer’s problems? Let us know in the comments below or email us on engage@syengage.com


2 thoughts on “What is China’s problem?

  • Nu

    Thanks for being part of the panel Simon last night and key insights given, including above. It’s given our group some food for thought (beers to brew over?) and potential adjustments to make in the lead-up to the trip. Thanks again!

    • Simon

      Thank you Nu! Was a real pleasure.


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