B.C. firm aims to buoy brand prestige of Chinese goods

Many Chinese brands continue to struggle with low esteem in western markets 

Beijing’s Wangfujing commercial street is home to 280 famous Beijing brand stores | Songquan Deng/Shutterstock

While the world’s second-largest economy has generally been performing on a sharp upward trend over the last decade, an aspect of business globalization – successful homegrown branding – continues to elude most products from China.

To help resolve the problem, one company is turning to B.C. for help. Richmond-based China Brand Globalization Headquarters (CBGH), launched this spring by a number of Chinese-Canadian immigrants, wants to hitch Metro Vancouver’s creativity and multicultural talent pool to Chinese-made product lines to create enduring brands that would benefit the economies of both markets.

“Being Chinese immigrants we know more than anyone the strength of China’s manufacturing sector and the huge opportunity it represents,” said CBGH chief executive Carlo Pan, who is also involved in an e-commerce platform linking Canadian produce to China. “But we also recognized the rich multicultural human resources here in Vancouver when it comes to creative industries. So we think this is a natural fit.”

Brands created in Vancouver will be Canadian brands, meaning the revenue and other gains will directly go into the local economy, Pan said.

Brand prestige for Chinese products and services, from running shoes and stationery to banks and consumer tech, has been lacking in general on the global scene, although major corporations have caught up rapidly, according to British consultancy Brand Finance’s Global 500 rankings.

In 2012, for example, China had no brands ranked among the world’s 30 most-valuable list (the top Chinese firm, China Mobile, occupied the 34th spot), and only six – mostly banks – made the top 100. In this year’s rankings, however, 16 Chinese brands made the top 100, with five firms making the top 30 and the booming tech sector, led by Alibaba Group (23rd; NYSE:BABA), Huawei (40th) and Tencent (47th), asserting a bigger presence.

But while consumer-oriented services like WeChat and UnionPay are quickly gaining prominence, and others like footwear maker Feiyue and drone producer DJI are making inroads, many Chinese brands continue to rely on domestic market share while struggling with low prestige in the Western market. According to Interbrand’s list of top brands that draw at least 30 per cent of their revenue outside of their domestic market, only two – Huawei (72nd) and Lenovo (99th) – made the ranking’s top 100.

That’s where CBGH hopes to make a difference, Pan said. The company – which invites Chinese firms to visit, then tries to connect them with local branding, creative and other associated logistics types (involved in processes like packaging) to create something more relatable in the West. Earlier this month, CBGH secured several major deals – including a stationery maker from Jiangsu province, near Shanghai – to create a “value-added branding proposition” for the products to enter the North American market.

Additional deals numbering in the teens have already been established, he noted, including discussions with companies based in the city of Tianjin and Fujian province in southeastern China. The goal, Pan said, is to have 50 to 100 companies signed on to “brand” their products through Vancouver, with each of those creating at least a small number of permanent, long-term jobs.

“The brands may start small but, as they grow, their value will increase, and their value for Vancouver’s economy and our business will grow in parallel,” he said. “Eventually we’d like to see as many as 5,000 jobs added here, maybe even more. But this is only the beginning. … We’re trying to shift the economic model here in the Lower Mainland, and it will take some time.”

The key, Pan said, is to also create B.C. jobs in the aforementioned related industries like packaging and branding design while hooking Chinese firms to continue to look to Vancouver for their branding needs.

“This injects new DNA into B.C.’s economic development infrastructure,” he said. “When we incubate multiple brands and successfully enter the global market with those brands, it will create jobs and secure long-term business with other Chinese enterprises, creating a new stream of tax revenue for B.C. as China looks to reach more and more beyond its borders. Vancouver’s economy cannot depend on real estate forever; it’s time we create something that will bring jobs for the next generation.”