Study: UK unready to take 'China opportunity'

08:32, December 16, 2010      

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UK opinion formers, particularly business leaders, see China as a place of opportunity, but noted the European country is still not ready to take advantage, a recent study suggested.

The survey, done in late Nov by local KL Communications, a branding, interpreting and translation company, was released this Tuesday. It found business leaders are the most pro-China in the UK, while many from the media and communication sectors still tend to consider China a "threat".

Though the sample size of 126 people is not huge, those surveyed were carefully selected opinion formers from four categories - City (London's financial centre) and Business, Politics & NGOs, Media & Communications, and the Public Sector - and each category was weighted equally.

By definition, opinion formers are people who have a lot of influence over what the public thinks about things.

The study found 66 percent of the surveyed rank China as more of an opportunity, with senior people in politics and NGOs giving the highest rating, at 81 percent.

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But 41 percent from the media and communications industry see China as more of a threat (compared with the 34% overall figure). Not surprisingly, the areas that work most closely with China – the City and Business and Politics – see it less as a threat than the Media and Public sectors.

Kevin Lin, founder and managing director of the KL Communications, said, "As China has officially become the world's second largest economy with 1.3 billion consumers, there is no doubt it offers tremendous opportunities for the UK."

Lin, who is also the lead interpreter (Chinese) of the Foreign Office of the British Government added, "More worrying is what the UK is prepared – or not prepared – to do to capture this market. However, even 29 percent of City and Business seeing China as more of a threat is disturbing to me."

On a positive note, the research revealed the UK is becoming more aware of how to do business in China, as 98 percent of the opinion formers recognize the importance of having a good relationship with local government, which is not so important when doing business in the UK.

Lin said he is very pleased with the finding.

"Given the fact that the role of the local governments in the UK is very different, the result represents an extremely high level of the awareness of a different business environment in China," he said.

Similarly, 98 percent of the surveyed, too, rate issues like understanding Chinese customers and understanding Chinese culture and language as "very important".

However, it also said, more disturbingly, that only 22 percent of the surveyed rate "having a Chinese version of their brand name and identity" as very important.

"Western brand owners often bury their heads in the sand. You often see designer shops bearing a brand name in English, but shop staff in fact use their own Chinese version of the brand name on things that matter to customers – instructions, labels and manuals," Lin said.

Pizza Hut is a classic example often commented upon in China. First it began with a simple transliteration of its English name which made no connection with the brand or its offering. It's only in the last few years that the company has added "happy canteen" to its name in an effort to improve the brand communication.

"The UK is competing against every other country for its place in China's hearts and minds. Branding doesn't work if your customers cannot even read or remember the name," Lin, whose clients include HSBC, BP, Tesco and BHS, added.

By Zhang Haizhou,
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