B2B International
B2B International

May 2, 2008

In this, his first Thursday Night Insight blog post, Jason Zhang, Deputy General Manager of B2B International’s Beijing office, takes a look at stereotypes and preconceptions, and reiterates the importance local knowledge plays in understanding people’s opinions and perceptions. Presently working out of the B2B International UK head office, Jason knows first-hand that, in spite of some common ground, there is still plenty to talk about when the East meets the West…

Before coming to Manchester for a two month placement in our Stockport office, I went to see my uncle in my home town near Beijing to say goodbye. My uncle, who is nearly 70 years old, has worked his whole life as welder for a local pharmaceuticals manufacturer, and has never travelled outside of China. In spite of this, he does know the name of Prime Minister Gordon Brown and he knows Manchester to be the hub of England’s textile industry. However, he also asked me “Are there still a lot of people in London who suffer because of the heavy smog?” It surprised me that my uncle still thought London to be a heavily polluted city as I know that this has not been a real problem for some years now.

To be honest, I myself also have some preconceptions about the UK. Two Saturdays ago, I went to watch Stockport County play MK Dons at football. I was expecting to experience some sort of hooliganism but there were none there! I am not a football fan, but just thinking about English football makes the concept of hooligans spring to mind.

Let me tell you another funny story about myself. Some years ago, when studying for my Masters degree at the University of Hull, I did some shopping in the supermarket ASDA. At the cash point, the staff asked me “Cash back?” I was so excited to hear that, as in our country the supermarkets have some kind of lucky draw to reward their customers by giving them cash or vouchers. So I answered, “Oh great, how much can I have?” When I saw everybody in the queue laughing at me, I finally came to realise that there was something wrong with my understanding of the expression “Cash back”.

It is fair to say that everybody has got his or her own perceptions and opinions about the outside world. However, the most successful companies out there are those which are very good at continually listening to their customers and understanding their perceptions. In turn, these companies then inform their target audience with certain information via specific vehicles.

Let us look at the example of Carrefour, one of the most successful foreign supermarkets in China. The French operator opened 19 stores alone in 2007 across mainland China, with the total number of stores now standing at 109.

Some years ago, I supervised some customer satisfaction research face-to-face study projects for Carrefour in Beijing. There I leaned that this French operator was the first supermarket in China to introduce live seafood displays of fish, crabs, prawns, etc in their stores. They understood through listening to local customers that Chinese people like live fish as they are fresh. Previously, the only place to buy live fish was in the open market. Now you can see, in all the Carrefour supermarkets in China, big glass tanks full of water where live fish and other water creatures are swimming around.

So, perhaps you should ask yourself – How good is your company at listening to customers and translating this into marketing campaign actions?