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Research has often indicated that consumers in markets like China, like consumers in other emerging Asian countries, place a lot of importance on brands. Brands are surrogates of quality and brands imply trust. That is why more Chinese and Indian consumers agree to statements like – it is better to buy well-known brands as you can rely on quality – than anywhere else in the world. These consumers aver that they only buy products from a trusted brand. While in the developed world branding is a value addition, in the developing world branding is a value assurance.
Consumers need this value assurance as they have burnt their fingers with myriad products of dubious quality. Scandals on contamination, suspicious ingredients in food products are rife in markets like China and India, driving consumers to indulge in tougher scrutiny of brands. The consumers in the developed markets, on the other hand, normally enjoy safe and reliable products, and hence the branding serves as a tool of value addition. In the world of fiercely increasing competition, this value addition is often in the intangible area of brand image and personality rather than the basic product attributes.
Our studies also show that while brands are considered important, historically consumers have been less loyal in China as compared to the rest of the world. This had to a great extent to do with the fact that the history of branding and marketing in China is relatively short. Thirty years ago there were hardly any brands in China. Brands have not enjoyed the same kind of long lasting affinity with consumers as they have in other societies where consumers have grown with brands. That is the reason marketers have often placed more importance on tactical measures such as price and promotions than brand building.
However this is rapidly changing. Today while brand loyalty is declining in the developed world, it is actually increasing in China. Consumers today are realizing that all that comes with attractive packaging and seductive advertising is not necessarily good or even safe. Hence they are now more selective in their embrace of brands and more loyal once they find satisfaction. It is time for marketers to increase their investments in brand building in these markets and try to forge a strong and long lasting bond with the consumers.
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