Anovax provides its clients with sound, actionable market intelligence and strategic brand consultation. With over a decade of experience operating in Greater China, Anovax has observed the fundamental shibs taking place in this dynamic region and understands what it takes to thrive in this evolving marketplace.


Success overseas is rarely an indicator of potential in China. One of our clients almost learned the hard way!  Having had success in many other markets, an FMCG client of Anovax was planning to introduce and market their global brand to Chinese consumers with extensive media support and a major brand roll-out.  The brand strategy for China started with a touch of arrogance, no surprise because their brand is a famous and fast growing product in the category.  Basically they decided their current global brand positioning was most likely good enough for the China market. 

Our first reaction during the research brief for a tracking program was to raise some concerns. The degree of sales expectations seemed highly optimistic to us as the category was somewhat smaller in China.  But the major concern Anovax had was that the brand positioning was based on a concept that Anovax felt could be seen as communicating values that conflicted with some aspects of Chinese culture. Because the copy and execution had been lifted from more developed consumer markets we also felt the brand's core message was going to be somewhat unfamiliar and some of the creative elements slightly alien to Chinese consumers.

Anovax pointed out these issues in the initial research brief and recommended with some anecdotal experience why an exploratory research stage was a necessity.  Our research proposal indicated Anovax was very concerned with some elements of the brand’s intended communications.  This was especially the case because we felt the client was attempting to position a brand for the China market without any local market consideration at all, using a brand clearly developed for major Westernized markets, with Western core values and very obvious Westernized creative support.

With these as concerns, Anovax strongly recommended that, rather than going direct to the intended brand strategy, the client should first explore how the Chinese target consumers understood the specific values of the brand not only in terms of product features but also some critical lifestyle and user imagery represented in communications. This exploratory stage was very enlightening and frankly showed the client that you cannot just bring a foreign brand and all its positioning and communication strategies to China without serious in-depth evaluation. 

In this early stage research Anovax focused specifically on understanding the mix of both individual and societal barriers to brand adoption in order to ascertain the true potential of the brand.  As we expected, the intended positioning did arouse some major concerns over the cultural representation of young users depicted in the foreign ad materials.  The level of rejection was almost universal amongst both target buyers and surprisingly even young consumers.  Research was able to understand and analyze these attitudinal reactions to the set of values around the brand and the barriers to adopting these values.

After the first stage research Anovax made some strong recommendations to the client in two key areas.  The first was the product appeals of the new brand and which areas to focus on in communications. In global markets the positioning was on a more lifestyle oriented approach.  Our research in China suggested a stronger focus on ingredients, taste and other in use benefits.  Secondly, we made some strong suggestions for avoiding cultural barriers that could be associated with this kind of product. 

Aided by the findings from this first series of initial qualitative research, the client was able to understand the product’s potential as well as its challenges and was able to make a sound, informed decision regarding brand positioning, communications strategy and future marketing investment in China. 


Sensitive consumer issues can be even more sensitive in China!

Given China's one child policy, nothing is more sensitive than products targeting babies. One of the problems when researching such market is that the target audience, mothers of course, tend to overstate their concerns and obscure real insights into what is really driving these markets, certainly in a focus group methodology.

Sensitive and unbiased approaches are needed to understand consumer behavior and brand purchase motivations in such markets. What we at Anovax call “looking behind language” which we believe is very critical in China market research.

For one of our clients, their infant milk formula was underperforming in what was a rapidly-growing Chinese market and the client came to us looking to examine the root causes of and potential solutions to this problem of a declining lack of consumer support.

Utilizing a selection of projective and collage or picture-based research techniques, Anovax was able to uncover key consumer attitudes and perceptions that were strongly shaping certain behavioral areas that were of primary interest to the client. By further exploring these beliefs and testing concepts relevant to this specific product, Anovax was able to offer actionable marketing insights to our client.  More importantly we were able to discount a number of issues that the client’s own sales team had reported were holding the brand back.

Our findings indicated that mothers, due to some previously bad press coverage of the industry in China, felt they lacked a major sense of confidence in brand choice. Many consumers actually distrusted current market information and therefore choices at that point in time were highly subjective and based on personal recommendations - and frankly were neither consistent nor reliable enough to be used as guidance for brand strategy. The danger here for inexperienced market researchers would have been to see these findings as the current drivers of brands in the market, when what we were observing was essentially gossip with a short life cycle.

Furthermore, our findings revealed that in fact part of the problem was that many brands had failed to differentiate themselves from one another in the minds of consumers, which was one of the reasons why “active” brand choice support was difficult to achieve, despite the existence of seemingly 'satisfied' users.

Given the low confidence in market information and limited differentiation between brands and products, the client was forced to tailor their marketing strategies and tactics.  The first thing that was adopted was a focus on the “confidence” problems that were hindering any brand choice and in this case our client’s brand acted as the market leader at providing consumers that missing confidence about brand choice.  Credibility was built around the brand not only by product claims but most importantly through testimonial support of reference people who had clinical credibility.

Success came very quickly!



Having high brand visibility doesn't always deliver in CHina - much of it can look promising but in terms of communications may be just wallpaper!

China is a vast country and it would seem the first and most logical strategy for any brand would be to build brand awareness.  That seemed to be the opinion of one of our global petroleum clients whose brand was a strongly category-usage linked brand worldwide.

However, despite very high advertising support and excellent brand awareness results amongst target customers and a familiar usage positioning among these consumers, our client’s petroleum product was struggling to convince the high percentage of non-users to even just try the brand once.

At the briefing to discuss this apparent problem, Anovax suggested that what may be missing from the brand communications strategy was something simple – a meaningful positioning or “reason why” they should use the brand.  The client was a bit put out by this discussion because in his view everyone “knew” the brand, which seemed logical given its global presence and the appeal of international motoring events, where this brand’s signage was ubiquitous to the Chinese target audience who were keen viewers of such events.

Our research findings immediately highlighted the problem.  The brand was certainly well known and had all the right linkages to sporting events and the specific target usage area, but basically the brand’s knowledge was at very superficial levels.  An exploration of what these consumers really wanted from such products was very insightful and helped us suggest a brand strategy direction.  This was based around building some much-needed emotional appeal beyond the rational benefits which the target customers had already accepted but found unappealing to cause brand shifts.   The project focused on a wide range of to target market segments and, most importantly, current loyal customers of major local competing brands.

Through our research, the client then understood that while technical claims were appealing and even recognized, the brand lacked "soul". Our main recommendation was to incorporate some emotional elements into their communications as a way of differentiating their product as well as appealing to some of the weaker target segments. These messages created a brand that resonated with consumers, being specifically tailored to reflect target consumers’ hopes and concerns, with the brand being promoted as one that was sensitive to their needs.

The client agreed with the new brand positioning and decided to focus on a longer term and committed communications strategy that would deliver consistency whilst getting across the brand’s newly developed “reasons why” for usage. Considering the specific profile of the target consumers, our client believed that the most effective communication channel for delivering the desired emotional appeal was the live promotion of products through a series of organized sporting events across a wide selection of geographical areas in China and this was an immediate success.

This was a classic case of not learning that in China awareness does not always equal interest or intent.  Our client used our findings based on consumer’s needs and aspirations to develop a new long-term strategy which is still helping them deliver their future sales growth targets for China.



One of the most common misunderstandings that overseas clients have about China is that global brand strategies can be easily adapted to the China market.   If only that were true! One of the biggest problems is surprisingly the major differences between cities and regions in China - in everything from attitudes to distribution.  Here is a telling example!

A European publisher engaged Anovax for a project to better understand their magazine’s potential target readership in a series of major Chinese cities. The publication was a leading fashion magazine with much of the content drawn from overseas editions.  Anovax recognized that the magazine was one that often “pushed the envelope” in terms of content with some quite controversial issues and even a design style and fashion focus that was challenging for a China market.  The publisher was quite keen to establish some “national” or major city coverage fairly quickly, so researching the magazine’s appeal across multiple cities was a key objective. 

The core focus of the research was to investigate the motivations, expectations and aspirations behind potential magazine readership across a range of Tier 1(the big three cities - Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou) and Tier 2 cities (Chengdu, Tianjin, and Chongqing). At this stage Anovax pointed out, with some relevant support examples from other projects, that the client should be prepared for significant differences across these city markets.  This was clearly something that the publisher had not factored in, as they were hoping for a single strategy approach.

Anovax utilized a series of focus groups in each city to firstly explore the everyday lives, hopes, interests and ambitions of the magazine’s potential target consumers.  Anovax then evaluated the communications found in some current editions of the magazine (in Chinese!) to assess whether the content was congruent with these attitudes and motivations of potential readers.

The responses to the magazine were, however, extremely varied across different Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities. Anovax recommended that the client first launch and focus on readers in China’s first-tier cities who were generally more familiar with and accepting of the content. Some of the content and lifestyle representations were just too modern and culturally challenging even for high income targets in the second-tier cities. 

The research findings also made an unexpected discovery. Our client was originally targeting subscription sales; however, our research clearly showed that the "little red" newsstands dotted all about the urban landscape were actually the key retail outlet for such lifestyle magazines in Tier 2 cities. Anovax also discovered that these Tier 2 customers were highly influenced by both vendor recommendations and POS advertising at these outlets.  In fact the visit to the newsstand was seen as a chance to explore what was new and interesting from their personal lifestyle perspectives.

As a result, empowered with this new information, our client was able to concentrate their efforts in this sales medium in the second tier cities and utilize a subscription strategy for the three major cities.  A second stage of research confirmed the different strategies used in each city were paying off.  This study found very high levels of magazine title brand awareness and high levels of trial, purchase interest and intent even in the Tier 2 cities.  Our client confirmed later that sales and repeat purchase had indeed been excellent and point of sales communications was actually creating a lot of interest across all six cities.  It seems some things can be utilized across markets in China, but that is not always the case!



To say things change quickly in China would be an understatement. This month's success may be tomorrow's brand failure!

Obviously, in such a rapidly developing market staying in touch with your brand's competitive performance and its consumer relationships is critical. Brands in some popular frequent use categories can no longer be complacent or assume any stable longer term positioning in such a volatile market as China is today. This was certainly one of our client's recent experiences.

To cope with the rising competition that had rendered a unique product feature less differentiating in a very short period of time, the brand’s management came to Anovax with the objective of testing a range of “innovative quality descriptors.  It was assumed that these new ideas would hopefully enable them to strengthen their market position and enhance their product’s relevance and differences among target consumers.

In this situation, although the client was ready to make changes, their supposedly innovative ideas were found to not be so evolutionary at all. In a rapidly changing market like China, there is often an expectation amongst target consumers of a category that brands stay fresh through many iterations of their key benefits, positioning and even packaging. One thing Anovax has noticed across a number of FMCG brands is that when an increasing number of brand players enter these 'frequent consumption' markets, consumers will only maintain enthusiasm with newer, often 'revolutionary' product features.

Extensive communications with the brand’s management gave Anovax a sense as to how far the brand was allowed to “stretch”. Our research, based on a mixture of focus groups and in-depth interviews, threw up a quandary for our client.  Was the client prepared to abandon some packaging images that were now somewhat obsolete in the eyes of category consumers in China?  The issue for the client was that some of these elements were consistently used global standards in the eyes of international management? After extensive presentations and discussions led by Anovax with both the local management and a global marketing team, the client accepted the reality that dramatic rejuvenation of the brand’s packaging and positioning was necessary in order to ensure category buyer support.

Anovax worked with the clients marketing team to determine through a series of research stages how our client’s brand could be drastically "re-invented" and differentiated while still maintaining customer recognition and without losing its own globally-recognized identity.  



Many of the research companies in China are strong operationally, but few have a marketing strategy focus.  The rapid growth of research in China has seen the learning curve on marketing strategy left far behind that of the market research industry’s pace of development. This has meant that many client’s will use a research supplier thinking that the research brief they are providing to their research agency is a correct statement of their marketing problems.  Few research suppliers will ever think of offering an alternative view!

In our experience the pace of growth in China means some clients may not be totally familiar with their markets and consumer trends.  We have been conducting research in China for many years and if we had to give brand owners one piece of advice it would be to find a market research consultant that will give you honest, often brutal insights about your brand and its potential in China BEFORE any research even begins. At Anovax we pride ourselves on that capability!

A recent project provides a very good example.  A well-known company with a long history in China invited Anovax to carry out some research with the objective of finding ways to increase their market share within the "gifting" segment - a segment almost peculiar to China and one that is huge in terms of revenue. For Chinese businessmen, gifting not only "oils the wheels" of business, but also develops one of the most important elements of business in China, "Guanxi". Guanxi is all about relationships that can be called on and used effectively as and when required. It is expected that the other party will reciprocate on that basis.  The strongest and most powerful relationships are not always through long-term business, but more importantly through any basis for informal (friends, colleagues, relatives) and established relations (clubs, associations, sports, etc.). 

Our client was a leading brand in the gifting segment in China but had recently encountered increased competition in this market and was looking for new strategies to reclaim lost market share.  Their initial focus was on a new overall brand positioning supported by major media spend.  At the original briefing Anovax pointed out some insights gained from other studies where we felt the gifting market was fragmenting into some specific segments beyond traditional festive occasions.  The client found these comments insightful and suggested a brainstorming session with his brand managers might be a good first step in developing the brand positioning.

After a full day’s discussion and immersion into the brand culture with the client, it became clear that the primary marketing objective of the study was likely to be more focused and should ideally be directed at strengthening the brand’s positioning within a few specialized gifting categories specifically rather than the broader strategy of all forms of gifting. The secondary objective then became seeking new ways of expanding those particular gifting categories beyond gift items commonly associated with the segment.

As a result of the brainstorming session, Anovax recommended that the client should rethink its strategy and either consider launching a gift-focused sub-brand or a completely separate gifting brand in an effort to create a gifting proposition that best met the needs of the consumer without detracting too much from the well-established and well known original brand image and message.  The following stage of qualitative research looking at these specific segments and gifting ideas gave completely new direction for the client across all components of their communication – branding, messages, media plans and product lines!

Through brainstorming, Anovax was able to provide a unique approach to counter challenges from the client’s competitors by identifying market space for the brand and it’s sub-brands to move into.  This early stage discussion re-directed the whole research strategy and ensured that the client’s budget for research was optimized and highly effective. To end the story on a high note, the brand’s refocus proved a great success with the newly identified target market gifting segments.

For some clients a bit of a reality check from a professional marketing research consultant can go a long way in aiding their China brand strategies!

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