For anyone that's been to mainland China, it’s clear to see that innovation and technology is thriving, and with the publication of the Greater Bay Area Blueprint at the end of February, this looks set to continue.
According to the South China Morning Post, the blueprint, “sets out President Xi Jinping’s personal ambition to integrate the 11 cities into an economic powerhouse to rival other innovation and financial hubs such as Silicon Valley and the Tokyo Bay Area.”
With the governments’ plans for the Greater Bay Area (GBA) already well underway, what does this focus on innovation, as well as the wider blueprint mean for those in the region and further afield? And how will the GBA blueprint impact PR and Marketing practitioners in Hong Kong? Here are some of the key questions you might be asked by your clients or colleagues:
Can the GBA live up to the hype and become a new San Francisco, New York, or Tokyo?
Don’t write it off just yet. The GBA’s current GDP sits at a healthy US$1.3 trillion, just behind the US$1.61 trillion GDP of Greater New York, so economically it looks like it could be on track to overtake these rivals. In addition, the Guangdong Delta has long served as a key point into and out of China, and with such a comprehensive and thought-out blueprint to help guide its future development, it looks set to continue as a key trading point. Likewise, while we're seeing a contraction of markets in China, cities in the south are bucking that trend with Shenzhen achieving 8% growth last year while other tier 1 cities saw contraction.
What will be the key to success for the GBA?
A key portion of the value of the GBA sits in the diversity of culture, knowledge and expertise that makes up its population. The importance of cultural exchange, both within the cities that make up the GBA, and with other parts of the world will be essential in its development. By combining the international focus of Hong Kong with the fast-paced start-up culture of Shenzhen and the established business processes of Guangzhou – the Greater Bay Area stands to enjoy a unique advantage.
Is ‘copy cat China’ still a fair stereotype and how can Chinese brands navigate this?
China is certainly far more than just a market of copy cats, particularly when it comes to technology. If you have ever tried to describe WeChat to someone from the West, then you will know how hard it is to find an equivalent platform to compare it to. Whilst it is certainly true that China has been able to learn from some of the early overseas innovators, as a country it has made unique solutions, and brands coming out of the GBA should not be afraid to make clear their unique selling points.
What about the US-China trade war?
Of course, we can’t talk about China and overseas interactions, without bringing up its current trade war with the US. Whilst any restrictions on trade will (and currently are) having an impact on China, it is clear to see that both bay areas are suffering as a result. Ultimately the two areas have always been deeply intertwined and will continue to be reliant on each other long into the future.
What are some of the challenges of growing awareness in China?
When it comes to growing a brand in China, flexibility seems to be the key to success. This is particularly essential when it comes to brand positioning. The way consumers view your brand in the west may be completely different from the perception of those in China.
Take Pizza Hut as an example. In the west, it is viewed almost solely as a takeaway brand with few eat-in locations. However, in China Pizza Hut noticed a gap in the market and has successfully positioned itself as a mid-range pizza restaurant, ideal for dates or meals with friends. It’s this ability to be flexible that enables brands to spot opportunities to reposition for greater success when entering the Chinese market.
What’s the best advice for companies entering or expanding from China?
The top 3 pieces of advice that we regularly hear from clients are:
As covered above, flexibility and a willingness to pivot have been essential to the success of inbound/outbound brands
It has taken some companies several years - and a few failed attempts - to successfully crack the China market
The investment needed to expand globally should not be underestimated, be it into or out of China.
For those of us working in the communications sector, it is important that we continue to educate our clients or colleagues about the rapidly changing landscape in southern China, as the opportunities that the Greater Bay Area have to offer are just beginning to become apparent.
PRHK Viewpoints is an article series contributed by members of PRHK, Hong Kong’s PR & communications association. This piece was written by Keso Kendall, general manager, Bay Area, Greater China at LEWIS and a board ambassador of PRHK.