Branding, Design and Marketing: What is Hot in Beijing’s Creative Community?

Creative_chat_whit chinese_design_community_Wilddesign_graphic

By Muhan Zhang, Senior Product Designer at WILDDESIGN Shanghai.

While visiting Beijing 2 weeks ago, I went to meet up with some friends from the creative industry. Talking with my fellow designers and marketers was a fascinating and inspiring experience, and I’m excited to share some of their insights. The three main people I spoke with are:


– Mr. ZHU, who has run his Beijing-based branding firm since 2001 and also teaches a number of MBA and branding courses.


– Ms. CHEN, design director of a large Chinese state-owned enterprise with nine years of experience in leading new product development.

WILD Friend Mr X_WILDDESIGN Graphic copy

– “Mr. X “, who owns an advertising agency with more than 30 employees. I call him ” Mr. X” here because I do not fully agree with his opinions.

Although I met with all of these creative industry professionals separately, we all talked about the same thing: creativity and design trends. Here are some of the topics that came up:

Topic 1:

What is “Overall Network Branding”?

When having tea with Mr. Zhu in his downtown office, he brought up the idea of “overall network branding.” describing how the idea of the “overall network” is particularly hot in China at the moment, he defined overall network branding as branding when a company uses a combination of variable communication channels, such as :

Traditional advertising tools (e.g. television and radio)

– Internet channels (company websites, Facebook, Pinterest,etc.)

– Mobile applications like We Chat.(a Chinese mobile app that had explosive success in 2013 and is still making enormous waves here in China)

“A brand needs this kind of massive ‘overall network’ if it want to impress the audience – you can’t imagine how many competitors are out there,” Mr. Zhu said.

Ttouchable network_Wilddesign Graphic

But, don’t forget the “touchable” network.

Mr. Zhu also discussed in detail the idea that no matter how popular the digital network is, retail channels should never be overlooked. In his opinion, the “touchable” network is the last – but also the most important- dimension of branding.

This is actually very similar to the approach we take here at WILDDESIGN. For European brands entering the Chinese market, having every up-and coming digital marketing channel covered might be worthwhile. However, the buyer or user still needs to internalize this information in order to understand and evaluate before making an decision. A more concrete and lasting “embassy,” is critical to have. And, even though “foreign” is no longer an all-powerful term, Chinese consumers are nonetheless eager to experience your brand’s uniqueness and strengths first hand.

Topic 2:

What is”technical” design and why is every Chinese designer talking about it?

In the cafe below her 23rd floor office, Ms. Chen and I talked at length about industry trends and the changes occurring globally in the overall design process. Looking over some of our work, she discussed how WILDDESIGN qualifies as a typical “technical” design agency, because we put our resources into identifying the relevant challenges as early as possible and place particular value on the earliest phase: field research and strategy.

“Technical design”, from Chinese designers’ perspective, is what designers tend to call a systematic design technique or process with certain, deliberate steps. Today, this kind of design process is considered the ideal model for many young Chinese designers, and is becoming more widespread at larger Chinese companies as well.

But it will take some time for this approach to be integrated into the wider, mainstream Chinese business model, in part because the majority often only has a superficial understanding of design. When developing a strategy, they mainly frame things in terms of their sales figures,” Ms. Chen said. As an in-house designer, she also needs to implement a systematic design process when working with suppliers, freelancers, or even other departments and clients. But she believes the technical design process will continue to gain momentum in the design community, and will soon be accepted into the mainstream.

technical Design process_WILDDESIGN Graphic

Topic 3:

Which does a brand need more of: buyers or followers?

“Mr. X” was very forth coming when he summed up his experience in the advertising industry by saying that “any strategy which is not designed to increase sales will not work in China, because most Chinese companies are results-oriented.” From a certain perspective I can understand his point, but I can’t agree with him in full for a number of reasons.

The fact is that today, sales goals alone are not enough to motivate solid marketing in the big Chinese cities. Regardless of the brand origin, if it runs promotions or discounts frequently in the name of meeting sales goals (a particularly common practice in China), it may spur consumption in the short-term but can also prove harmful to a brand’s overall value and image. Therefore, people may doubt the real value of a brand if it always pushes sales and discounts.

A buyer, pays for a purchase once, but a follower will share news and experiences with more people. Putting this principle into action is a great example of a brand emphasizing the long term in their branding strategy, and demonstrates excellent big picture marketing thinking. In China, before a newly arrived brand joins the fray of social media marketing, it is key to think about what the core values and services of your brand are – and how to make your buyers into your followers.


People in China have shown a strong willingness to accept (and practice) a Western design approach, although one based on their uniquely Chinese perspective. Particularly in the creative community, people are generally familiar with international design trends and are increasingly likely to take a holistic and systematic approach to design.

It’s not hard to predict that this movement will become more prominent in the near future. Though it may mean more competition for WILDDESIGN, we are very supportive of this trend because we genuinely believe it is the right way to approach design. We would like to think that with holistic and systematic design methodologies becoming widespread in China, Chinese designers will soon have a larger impact on a global scale as well.

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Muhan: 8 years living and working in Germany and recently come to Shanghai. From a product designer became a blogger, I am always trying to catch up, explore and learn from the fast- changing world.

Originally written by Muhan Zhang, 04. April 2014. Last updated 15. May 2023


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