Woo Conference @ UCLA Anderson

We had our annual Greater China Business aka Woo Conference at UCLA Anderson last Friday.  The name is from Wilbur Woo, Vice Chairman Emeritus of Cathay Bank and Cathay Bancorp, Inc, for his generous endowment.  A team of students worked on this with Price Center for almost half a year to bring the conference together.  Granted that this is a tough year to either invite people to speak or to ask people to attend conference, we still got a really great turnout of over 200 people.  We could feel the passion toward China at the conference, and that people were more optimistic about China than US.

I helped to put together the “BUILDING BRANDS: China’s Emerging Consumer Power” panel, which I think was awesome.  The original idea about composition when Holly and I were thinking about the panel was one Chinese company, one US company and one branding company.  We turned out to have all we wanted: James Liess from Haier America, Jane Gannaway from Yum! China and Russ Meyer from Landor.  I felt really lucky to have them all and the panel turned out to be a great learning experience for everyone.  I was too busy arranging everything that day so I couldn’t take notes, but here are some takeaways I still remember:

  • Chinese consumers traditionally put more trust on reference, purchase products to blend in, and put less premium on brands.  But with the new generation, everything is changing so soon enough these rules might not hold true.
  • Brands nowadays is not what you tell customers what you are, it’s what customers think what you are.  It’s the same in China.
  • Building brands is to find the relevance between your product and your customers.
  • You can have either global company with local brands, or global brand with local companies, but you have to choose one.  Yum! China is definitely going after the local brands strategy.
  • The “market research” industry in China is not well developed yet, with few people really capable of providing the information in an easy to purchase way.
  • Tier 2 and 3 cities are repetitively mentioned in this conference, as China’s consumer market grows and tier 1 cities becoming saturated, these smaller cities and emerging middle class there will be the new growth sector.
  • “Made in China” does not equal low quality.  Thanks Jane for sharing with us a first hand story inside Yum!.  I hope this is a notion that people will gradually change!

If you could remember more good things from the panel or the conference, please feel free to leave a comment.  I hope that Woo Conference is an event that continues to get support from the business community here.  After all California is one of the most important gateway between China and US.

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