The growing popularity of Starbucks Coffee (星巴克) in China is an interesting phenomenon. Initially it might seem strange and even risky to market Coffee to a nation of historical tea drinkers but the Chinese market has changed dramatically. There is a growing demand for international idea’s here. The increasingly affluent middle and upper classes in China have not only more disposable income but also seek a higher quality of life and a more cosmopolitan, global lifestyle.

There is a growing demand for international products in China

 

Anglo-American style coffee culture is one such foreign idea that is gaining traction in China, for western firms with interesting idea’s to offer this is a fantastic time to consider launching in China.

Starbucks have adapted their brand for the Chinese consumer

Starbucks are a great example of how an American firm can successfully launch and remarket itself in a way which is appealing to the Chinese consumer. China is currently the second largest market for Starbucks outside of the U.S. The corporation has plans to open 500 new stores in China by the end of the year. The company currently have locations in 90 Chinese cities and employ over 25,000 people in China.

This success is partly because Starbucks caters for the Chinese market effectively. A range of Chinese tea’s are sold as well as moon cakes and traditional deserts. Management have also factored in Chinese social dynamics and expectations. There has always been a very strong emphasis on the family in this society with management making an effort to get to know employees families. The company said in a statement that; “family forums have been held for parents of store partners to hear managers discuss gratifying career paths at Starbucks.” This is intelligent and reflects a high degree of research into wider Chinese society and the importance of Confucian values. This type of specialized, local knowledge is invaluable for any western firm.

The Chinese place greater emphasis on the social environment of the store

Many Chinese coffee drinkers, “place greater value on the experience and environment these cafes provide, rather than on the quality of the coffee itself,” reports China Briefing. This demonstrates the importance of understanding and knowing the Chinese market. The Chinese have of course historically drunk tea and not this European style of coffee. The demand is perhaps not so much for the ‘taste’ of coffee but instead a real appreciation of the social environment it is consumed in. An environment of peace and tranquility is sought and this is what consumers are willing to pay a premium for. Business insider reported that the company charges up to 20% more for its coffee products in China compared to other markets.

Collaborating with Chinese business partners

Starbucks announced a partnership with Chinese company Tingyi Holders to make and sell ‘ready to drink’ products in China. Laws and business practices can make it challenging for foreign companies to grow without local advice, knowledge and networks. This example demonstrates that being able to adapt into this different market place often requires this kind of international collaboration.

Here are some examples of how Starbucks are marketing themselves online in China:

Starbucks have a Weibo account

Starbucks have an official Weibo account and market themselves on this popular social media platform. With over 500 million users it is vital to have a presence here.

Starbucks weibo

– As it is summer the chilled, iced lattes are featured as the main image, the Chinese will often drink through a straw as pictured.

– The slogan ‘falling in love with latte’ is translated into Mandarin Chinese, an enlarged, elegant style of font is used.

– Interestingly what Starbucks are promoting online is often not the ‘traditional’ coffee products we expect in the west.

Focus on variations of the product and additional merchandise

starbucks weibo chinese flasks

– These brightly coloured, ‘Starbucks’ branded water bottles are featured on the Weibo page.

– The range of products is different with the company diversifying and promoting different products in the Chinese market.

– The colours are different with brighter tones and Chinese style graphics emphasized.

Starbucks have launched a WeChat campaign

– There are over 500 million users on WeChat.

– QR codes are embedded in the content being shared online. By scanning the QR code consumers have access to exclusive content with coupons and customized alarm tones.

– Digital promotion across different platforms is employed with Weibo posts including QR codes.

The wechat QR code has even been featured on the Coffee cups themselves.

Starbucks as friendship, providing a social context

This is a key theme with users often posting about their social interactions using the hashtag ‘#starbucks#’ on Weibo. The social element of drinking is repeatedly emphasized with users posting up images of themselves with friends, this is especially effective in China as users particularly trust their social network, friends and family.

 

Here you can see how Starbucks have adapted to the Chinese market and are promoting themselves on key Chinese social networking platforms. It is vital to adapt your strategy in both the the digital and non digital sectors.

We are a specialist digital agency who understand the market and can help western firms to adapt and succeed as Starbucks have in China.

For more information see our website here.

For top advice on social media marketing in China see our previous article.