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  • Writer's pictureRasmus Bengtsen

The success of brand collaborations in China

Updated: 5 days ago

In the dynamic realm of Chinese marketing, brand collaborations have emerged as an interesting and new phenomenon in recent years. Local brands, notably in the tea and coffee sector, are propelling this trend forward through unexpected and inspiring partnerships. The allure is clear – the ubiquity of beverages like tea and coffee turns collaborations, such as Luckin Coffee x Moutai, into instant internet sensations. From upscale alliances to unexpected pairings, brand collaborations in China exemplify a diverse array of imaginative unions. These collaborations have evolved beyond mere marketing strategies; they serve as indicators of public sentiment and local preferences, functioning as cultural dialogues that mirror the pulse of the Chinese consumer. Brand collaborations transcend mere transactions, morphing into transformative tools for brands to broaden their influence, especially resonating with the discerning young Chinese consumer base.

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Driving Forces Behind Brand Collaborations in China

Amidst the fierce competition of the Chinese market, especially in the global luxury sector, brands are reevaluating their approaches. The necessity for brand collaborations stems from evolving consumer dynamics, the demand for localized products, and the desire for unique, shareable experiences. For luxury brands, successful collaborations can be transformative, swiftly generating substantial awareness.


The concept of luxury is undergoing a shift as young Chinese consumers redefine it. They crave fresh perspectives, culturally sensitive interpretations of Western ideas, and creative twists. Unlike the West, where branding has a deep-rooted history, China's approach is relatively recent. With fewer brands bound by long histories, they enjoy the freedom to reinvent themselves and align with the latest trends.


Co-branding, a suitable tactic for brands of all sizes, offers an array of benefits. It serves as a strategic avenue to expand customer base, increase awareness and loyalty, tap into new markets, boost revenue streams, enhance brand image, and save on marketing costs. In the dynamic Chinese market, brand collaborations are not just optional strategies; they are essential tools for staying relevant and resonating with the ever-changing preferences of consumers.


What Makes Brand Collaborations Successful in China?

To thrive in the dynamic Chinese business landscape, a profound connection with Generation Z is essential, as they constitute around 30% of online consumers. This demographic is particularly drawn to co-branded products that convey exclusivity. Local brands incorporating traditional Chinese values have found favor with Gen Z, presenting a lucrative opportunity for successful collaborations. The individualistic nature of China's Gen Z and millennial consumers, driven by a desire for differentiation, leads them to favor mega-collaborations over mass-market items. The appeal lies in the unique allure of limited-edition partnerships, making consumers feel discerning and sophisticated.


For international brands eyeing the Chinese market, a deep cultural understanding is paramount. The integration of traditional Chinese elements is crucial, especially in navigating the "Guochao" (国潮 - national trend) wave, where consumers resonate with nationalism. Authenticity and respect play pivotal roles in establishing a brand's presence in this trend, emphasizing the significance of investing in social currency and employing nostalgia marketing to seal deals.


Luxury, as redefined by young Chinese consumers, requires a fresh perspective and culturally nuanced interpretations of Western ideals. What might be considered unconventional collaborations in Europe are warmly embraced in China. The competitive landscape, intensified by the rise of domestic direct-to-consumer brands, necessitates innovative collaborations that can rapidly elevate a newcomer to "internet-famous" status. In summary, success in brand collaborations in China hinges on understanding and catering to the unique preferences of the Gen Z demographic, integrating traditional Chinese values, and embracing unconventional and culturally nuanced approaches to luxury.


A Smart Marketing Strategy for Foreign Brands

To unlock growth in the Chinese market, foreign brands can deploy a smart marketing strategy centered around investing in social currency. This entails forming alliances and creating social media buzz through collaborations on festival days, joint campaigns, or co-branded products. Such initiatives not only enhance brand image but also resonate with the middle-class Chinese consumer base, fostering excitement, relevance, and increased revenue. The equation is simple: a satisfied and vocal customer base contributes to a dynamic and appealing brand, leaving a lasting imprint in the market.


The collaborative synergy of these brand partnerships, with shared costs and rewards, serves as smart strategy in navigating market challenges. This dynamic relationship injects freshness and excitement, often translating into swift sales. Beyond the digital realm, collaborations extend to both digital and physical experiences, including special events, pop-up shops, gaming features, and other opportunities that facilitate consumer engagement with the brands and their collaborative products. Cross-branding, tapping into the established customer bases of both partners, garners more attention than individual efforts. This not only sets both brands apart but also plays a pivotal role in renewing consumer focus and interest.


For foreign brands entering the Chinese market, these collaborations offer a distinctive avenue. Aligning with local brands and demonstrating a commitment to Chinese culture through partnerships, collaborations, or investments in the local community establishes a robust brand presence. This approach deeply resonates with Chinese consumers, fostering loyalty and support for foreign brands. Such collaborations serve as a powerful tool for successful market penetration, enabling foreign brands to navigate the nuanced landscape of Chinese consumer preferences and brand loyalty.

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Cobranding for different goals

Foreign brand can do collaborations with local brands to achieve distinct goals. Two primary categories emerge in this realm: product-based co-branding and communications-based co-branding.


Product-based Co-branding encompasses collaborations where multiple brands from different companies join forces to market either an existing or a new product or service. Within this category, strategies like Parallel Co-branding, where multiple brands create a combined brand identity, and Ingredient Co-branding, where components from one brand enhance the reputation of another, unfold. Typically, Ingredient Co-branding is observed between larger, well-known brands.


On the other hand, Communications-based Co-branding involves the joint communication and promotion of brands from different companies. This category encompasses various strategies, such as Same-company Co-branding, National to local Co-branding, Joint venture/Composite Co-branding, and Multiple sponsor Co-branding. Each strategy aims to leverage the strengths of collaboration for effective brand promotion.


Creating a Successful Brand Collaboration

Successful brand collaborations often hinge on the element of surprise. 'Unexpected' collaborations with interesting products never fail to drive attention and generate online discussions. Discovering the underlying similarities between two seemingly disconnected brands tells the brand story in a fresh, exciting way. This is crucial when targeting Chinese millennial and Gen-Z consumers, with their expressive, original preferences, seeking brands that allow them to explore a more unique self. Comprehensive market research is essential to understand the local culture and social context, informing a well-localized strategy that resonates with the target audience.


Strategic online presence is vital for success. Establishing accounts on popular social networks such as WeChat, Douyin, Xiaohongshu, and Weibo allows seamless integration of co-branding campaigns, engaging directly with Chinese consumers. Planning for exclusivity and credibility involves limiting collaborations to maintain uniqueness and authenticity.


Finding the right co-branding partner is a dynamic process. Synergy is pivotal, and selecting a partner with compatibility in core values, a positive image, and visibility is crucial. Assessing added value for target consumers, identifying complementary aspects between brands, and weighing potential risks ensure a harmonious partnership. Creating a new product requires a deep understanding of Chinese consumers' wants and needs, aligning collaboration with traditions, beliefs, and values, and ensuring quality, affordability, and robust customer support.

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