Branding presentation at Zhongshan Innovation Seminar

Work and life intersected in a surprising way last week during an ancestry trip I took to China. While researching my Chinese ancestors online over Christmas last year, I found a distant cousin in California who in turn put me in touch with a lovely man, Harry He, in Zhongshan who has researched my family, which is from that area in Guangdong. A couple of months later, in the spring, an invitation came from the Zhongshan Foreign and Overseas Chinese Affairs Bureau to join a group of descendants of Zhongshanese for a one-week visit packed with cultural and business visits and classes.

My brother and I were incredulous at the invitation and perplexed at the mention of a uniform to be worn during the workshop – which turned out to be an innocuous blue bodywarmer. The trip itself deserves its own full write-up which I plan to do over this coming Christmas break.

I gave a talk on Luxury Branding on October 28th to Fashion Marketing students at the University of East London and posted about it on Facebook. Harry saw the post and asked if I’d like to give a branding talk to his university students during the trip. Already excited to give the talk in China, upon my arrival the organiser of the Zhongshan Industrial Innovation Seminar asked if I could address 300 local business owners on the topic of branding, and participate in a panel discussing innovation in Zhongshan. What an opportunity!

I tailored the talk to the local area, explaining my observations on the branding of Zhongshan’s companies which operate in specialised industries like lighting, clothing and redwood furniture. As industry develops there so does branding but at the moment it is not up to Western standards. Branding of local companies looks descriptive and inconsistent – not much storytelling that grabs B2B or B2C audiences with emotion.

There were some interesting questions like asking for examples of poor brands which have failed. In response to that I could think of strong brands without a great visual identity which actually do well – for example Google before their rebrand. That’s because the core of the brand is actually the strategy and products rather than the name or visual identity itself, which in an ideal world will be as strong as the brand strategy and offering.

The week in China was incredible on many levels and speaking to Zhongshanese entrepreneurs on branding was certainly a memorable part of it. Watch out for the opening of Grain China!

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