The toxic air in Beijing and other cities in China is an environmental and public health disaster, but it’s an enormous opportunity for air purifier providers – Beijing alone has an estimated population of 20.6 million people. The US Embassy in Beijing recently placed a massive order for “more than a couple thousand” but “under five thousand” air purifiers. They ordered from the US provider of Blueair, a Swedish company, but the article also mentioned Blueair’s competitor, IQAir.
I lived in China for four years, and for almost a year before becoming a magazine editor, I managed the Beijing branch of a China-based company with exclusive dealer rights to an American air purifier brand. The most notable thing in the New York Times article: The brand I sold wasn’t even mentioned, and they’ve been in China for years. What happened?
I learned a lot about marketing from watching what happened at this provider. Here are a few things I noticed when I was there that caused the brand to miss out on what could have been a very valuable media mention.
Disregarding market differences. The dealer I worked for is headquartered in Shanghai, but expanded to Beijing when I arrived at the company. Their advertising and marketing efforts had modest success in Shanghai, and it was decided that Beijing would employ the same strategy and tactics as Shanghai.
Both Blueair and IQAir enjoyed far stronger brand recognition in Beijing than they did in Shanghai. Our retailer didn’t need to advertise and market aggressively in Shanghai, so declined to do so in Beijing. As a result, even years after I left the company, there still wasn’t widespread brand recognition.
Lesson: Be willing to go through a trial-and-error process when targeting a new market or segment, and adjust your strategy to the actual market.
Marketing with tunnel vision. The company relied on print ads in one magazine and attending international school fairs. Unlike the Shanghai market, the Beijing target market has more niches and is geographically more spread out, and between the ads and the fairs, we reached a very small slice of the target market and saw little return on those tactics. We concentrated more on that small return than on long-term growth.
Lesson: Continually assess ROI from all your efforts, and diversify marketing strategies; you can’t expect different results from doing the same thing. Don’t mistake making progress for getting results.
Not engaging the most influential media outlets. In Beijing, there are maybe half a dozen English-language magazines competing for the expat market, so advertising in these magazines is the best way to build recognition in the international community. Our brand spent almost all the marketing budget advertising in first one, then another, of the least-read of these publications.
The head office wouldn’t even talk to sales reps from the most-read publications in Beijing. They not only lost eyeballs on what could have been valuable advertising, but they also shut off any form of communication, meaning they couldn’t become experts or resources by providing comments or information in articles.
Whenever the big magazines wrote about air quality or air purifiers (which was fairly frequently, since it’s a prominent problem), our competitors, IQAir and Blueair, were mentioned and experts from their company quoted. The brand I worked for was never mentioned, which is exactly what happened in this New York Times article.
Lesson: Advertising doesn’t equal coverage, but don’t shut your organization off by refusing all calls. You can’t become a resource if you won’t talk to anyone. And if you’re going to advertise at all, make sure that outlet fits your strategic goals as well as your budget.