‘How to wow’ in packaging in China – 5 lessons

If your western food brand is ready for its China launch, think again. The packaging that works so well when targeting Europeans, Americans and Australians, may fail to appeal to the Chinese consumer, says Andrew Kuiler. The brand strategy and consumer insights expert in Shanghai offers 5 wise lessons on ‘how to wow’ in China packaging.

“It all starts”, says Kuiler, “with creating a powerful brand proposition – and Chinese brand name – that truly reflects your intended positioning in the China market, whilst leveraging what works for you back home when it comes to brand activation, like messaging, pack design and, advertising tactics.”

Andrew Kuiler is Founder and Managing Director of The Silk Initiative (TSI), a brand strategy and consumer insights consultancy specializing in food and beverage packaged goods, based in Shanghai. His firm was recently hired to overhaul one of its client’s packaging strategies for the China market. The aim was to help the product and the packaging stand out better during the ever-evolving gifting occasions in China. The ‘journey’ provided some interesting learnings on how to really stand out on crowded Chinese shelves. As Andrew Kuiler insists, “particularly with regard to what ‘premium’ may mean to consumers in China.”

1. “Premium-ize” the everyday

“McKinsey recently reported a marked increase in consumer spending in premium categories in China. Chinese consumers are maturing rapidly in terms of consumption and in the process, upgrading their choices. Western brands should consider a proper positioning of their premium products in China. Some do well in ‘premium-izing’ their proposition, highlighting the quality of their product. But, how does that look in packaging terms? Many brands do well in using red and gold, and decorative elements like sparkles, embossed materials and ribbons, high end string/rope and the likes to ‘upgrade’ consumer perception of their products. Starbucks, for example, level up their daily offer by selling desserts, such as mooncakes, in an Asian-style chest of drawers for the holiday season – a nod to a fancy cosmetics case.”

2. Tell a historical tale

“We see an increase in national pride in the Chinese branding space. We see more brands embracing nostalgia, with historical Chinese packs, whilst also borrowing contemporary cues. What we are seeing is a sophistication of conveying heritage for Chinese brands. In addition to Chinese players in the market going for that ‘authentic’ feel, there’s also a large presence of products from Hong Kong on the shelves, particularly when it comes to moon cake gifting.”

3. Provide an experience

“Probably the biggest step change we see in packaging is the evolution of brand story-telling through effective pack design. There are many brands overtly using their pack graphics and form (and spending serious money in it) to tell the brand’s heritage story. For example, this Hershey’s pack is depicting a historical street. It not only conveys authenticity and company heritage, but adds a touch of novelty  – executed with class and not tackiness. For foreign brands in particular, building and telling strong heritage stories may become even more crucial than innovation or fancy activation alone. If you have a great brand legacy, tell it in a compelling way!”

4. Naming is paramount

“Every good movie has a great title. Likewise, the brands that are standing out in the premium space have invested heavily in a relevant, resonating and compelling Chinese name. Though category dependent, we hear even in chocolate biscuits, that classical logo fonts, with Chinese characters that are ‘extremely difficult to read or write’, add more value to a brand, conveying the detail and thought that has gone behind it. Luxury brand Coach, for example, uses a complicated 14-stroke character which is in the Chinese words for nutmeg and cardamom. We also see typical drinking yogurts, such as Suntory’s Bikkle, translated for the Chinese market in such a way that it is able to position itself at a higher price point than other yogurts on the shelf in part because of its premium-izing name.”
“In short: invest in proper linguistic understanding and create powerful Chinese brand names that truly reflect your brand personality, value and fit your intended proposition. Don’t take naming lightly. Once you’re printed, you’re printed and out there. Don’t be the brand that renames themselves a year after launch.”

5. Colors, shapes, graphics

“Understand and act on use of color and premium semiotic (shape, symbol, materials, tactile experiences) cues that are ‘occasion’ specific. Innovate on packaging graphics and form to tell a credible and compelling brand story that aims to set you apart on the shelf in addition to educating first time users on your brand and separating you from ‘the rest’.”

In short: premiumize, tell a historic tale, provide an experience and a good Chinese name. And do make good use of colours, shapes and graphics. If you need a hand when preparing for a launch in China, contact Andrew Kuiler.


< Previous Next >

Related articles