Lessons from Dolce & Gabbana crisis

By Lena Yang Source:Global Times Published: 2018/11/25 20:18:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

A video campaign has thrown the Dolce & Gabbana (D&G) brand into a crisis that could become one of the biggest disasters in the fashion industry. This happened in China that represents 36 percent of the international luxury market and that will become the largest in the coming four years with more than 42 percent of premium purchases made by Chinese.

The crisis has been precipitated by the lack of understanding of Chinese culture, ignorance of Chinese people's feelings and pride, and influence of social media. If you want to do business in China, these are 10 things you need to keep in mind:

1. Respect the long history of China and keep an open mind

Always remember that China has more than 5,000 years of recorded culture and what you know and learn from news or books about the country may just be clichés. Most of your imagined preconceptions of what China should look like are usually wrong. The video of a Chinese model using chopsticks to eat Italian food may just look like a "joke," but may be only to non-Chinese watchers ... What the maker of this video seems to ignore is that chopsticks are part of Chinese culture and largely associated with core Chinese values such as family, friendship, love. On the whole, they are symbolic of the uniqueness of Chinese lifestyle. Even the Chinese government in a Chinese New Year video in 2015 promoted this view. So, please think twice if you want to joke about it. One lesson is that if a foreign brand wants to demonstrate its links with China creatively, it should make efforts to research and consult local Chinese experts.

2. Be politically correct in China

A brand that wants to develop in China has no other choice than to respect local rules. Being politically correct is the first rule to respect when entering this market. This is the reason why most big groups in China recruit a Chinese expert or hire an external consultant to ensure their moves in the market are not faulty.

3. Managing public opinion

China is a massive country, which means anything happening here will have a magnified effect. The size of your market determines the risk you are facing. Managing public opinion about your brand is as important as managing your existing clients.

4. Exercise care with the unpredictable young generation

China's young generation, born after 1985, grew up in a booming country. The young Chinese travel around the world, connect with international news and trends. They embrace new experience, look for creativity and love that brands such as Chanel, Gucci, LV, Dior bring in exhibitions, pop stores … to pamper them. They have no brand prejudice and are often engaged and passionate. So, if you do it right, they will welcome you with open arms. But remember, if they feel offended, they will abandon you without a second thought.

5. Semantic correctness: Talk to Chinese in their own "language"

If brands want to build a campaign around China and Chinese people, they should respect the form of communication to which the Chinese may be sensitive. If the creative idea or team is not Chinese, make sure you listen carefully to the advice of your local Chinese team or consultants.

6. React immediately when there's crisis

China has a very active social network. Any information can spread faster than you think. Brands have a very short time to react. In the case of D&G, it spread within a couple of hours to millions of users on Weibo. Your possible reaction time might only be seconds. Add internet crisis management to your training program for all employees.

7. Be fair and transparent with your consumers and Chinese public

Chinese customers and public may be much more sensitive and proud than you think. Western businesses tend to forget the glory of the Chinese Empire (till mid-19th century, China still had the highest GDP in the world). The history of suffering that followed for the Chinese people during the first half of the 20th century was largely due to colonial interference of Western powers. Hence, Chinese trust for the West may be fragile. So, be fair with Chinese customers and do not try to deceive them.

8. Respect is rewarded, this is the biggest opportunity in China

The ancient Chinese idiom says: "Respect me one inch, I will return one foot." This comes from 3,000 years of education and is deeply rooted in Chinese values. China considers itself "a country with courtesy," asking for mutual respect. Brands which express a true understanding of Chinese culture and feelings will be highly rewarded. The opposite is true for brands which don't.

9. Hire a strategic consultant if you cannot afford one internally

Having a PR agency or PR team in China is far from enough. They may be handling the promotion or sometimes responding to crisis, but brands need advice from business security consultants to avoid undue risks. A good strategic consultant can do that.

10. Never too late to restart

Last but not least, even if a controversy has erupted, believe in the kindness of the Chinese. Recognize the problem or the mistake, express sincere apologies, and reconnect respectfully with the public. Another Chinese idiom says: "Nothing is better than acknowledging mistakes and correcting them."

Good luck in China!

The author is CEO of China Mind Next Consultancy and ex-CEO of Hearst Magazines China. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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