Chinese companies are some of the world’s largest—China Mobile is the world’s biggest mobile phone operator by subscribers and Industrial Commercial Bank of China is the second-largest bank in terms of market value. Nonetheless, only 6% of US consumers and about 14% of British ones can name a Chinese brand, according to the research agency Millward Brown.
How much does that really matter? According to a ranking of “brand value” by Millward Brown and advertising company WPP, based on firms’ corporate earnings and a survey of 405,000 people, Chinese firms appear to be doing well. China Mobile’s brand, which topped the ranking, was worth $61 billion. (AT&T, in comparison, is worth $76 billion, a May ranking says.) The combined value of the top 10 Chinese brands was about $252 billion.
Because Chinese firms are more focused on emerging markets in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America than saturated, developed markets like the US or the UK, it isn’t that important that British and American consumers don’t know who they are. And in emerging markets, Chinese brand awareness isn’t too bad. According to Millward Brown’s report (pdf, p. 28), in Brazil, 29% of those polled could name at least one Chinese brand. In Russia that percentage was 27%; in India, 22% and in South Africa, 20%. Moreover, in India and South Africa 45% and 44% of polled consumers said they would consider buying a Chinese branded good or service, the report noted.
Rising brand awareness in emerging markets is no doubt the result of Chinese firms expanding in these markets. We’ve reported on Chinese tech giant Baidu installing its search engine software on smartphones in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Chinese automakers like Chery, Geely, and Great Wall Motor are increasingly exporting their low-cost cars Latin America and other emerging markets. Chinese telecom firm Huawei is rolling out 4G in Ethiopia’s capital.
Still, Chinese firms need to improve their branding, perhaps most importantly within their own country. Chinese families have long ago been scarred by food and product safety scandals involving Chinese companies. According to the report, (pdf, p. 30), only a third of Chinese shoppers surveyed said they believed China’s top brands were trustworthy.