Topics Discussed and Key Points:
● The explosion of fitness culture in Asia
● Mainland China’s consumer sporting goods market
● Columbia’s brand strategy for the Chinese market
● Differences between the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean sports apparel markets
● How the 2008 Beijing Olympics impacted the country’s sports apparel market
● Establishing a digital and physical presence as a new sports brand in China
● Do big-box stores for sports apparel exist in China, or are they independently managed?
● The current state of Japan’s sports apparel market
● How Japan’s work culture influences shopping habits
Today on The Negotiation, we speak with Bill Tung, who currently works as Managing Director at Peaks Consulting. Bill discusses the rise of the sports apparel world in China, Japan, and Korea, which he experienced firsthand as Vice President of International Sales and Market Expansion at Columbia Sportswear.
Bill recalls, upon joining Columbia in 2003, that China was “virgin territory” for the brand. Working with their distributor in Hong Kong, they explored potential strategies to introduce their products into the Chinese market. While Columbia was eventually able to foray into the country—and gradually built brand recognition with in-store marketing—it turned out to be a huge challenge because very few Chinese engaged in outdoor activities such as skiing, snowboarding, camping, or trail running.
Indeed, one of the more unique elements of the sports apparel market in China is that fashion, rather than function, is the biggest selling point for most consumers. Compared to Japan or Korea where people buy these products for the sport or to stay warm, Chinese consumers of sports apparel tend to value style over technology. Columbia’s success in all three markets is owed to the company’s “flexibility and foresight to localize design” while keeping “the DNA and the history of the brand intact.”
New brands looking to enter a foreign market need a multipronged approach going in, and it starts with everyone in the organization, from the C-suite to the rank and file, embodying that global mindset. Marketing and product design has to be specifically tailored to the unique culture of the country in question.
With regard to China, the most important part of any marketing strategy is building brand awareness through local eCommerce and social media platforms. But the company has to have a physical presence as well because part of the experience for the consumer is feeling the product.
“For Columbia, it was very much dictated on the features, advantage, and benefits of the product to justify those price points. In China, anybody could buy a down jacket, but why would they buy your products?”
“For a new brand that’s looking to go into China, whether you’re a sporting leisure brand or a luxury brand, it’s all about getting online.”
“Ignore the concept of Japanese uniqueness at your peril.”
“If you can satisfy Japanese consumers’ expectations about quality, you have the rest of the world covered.”