“Who Moved My Cheese?” – Business Opportunities in Fast-Changing China

01We chat becomes the most used app of many user

WeChat has become a must-use app for many smartphone users in China.

You may remember the self-help/motivational book craze of the late 90’s, when seemingly every shelf of your local bookstore was crammed with titles promising you prosperity and happiness with a few simple steps. One book stood out from the crowd, however, and has withstood the test of time: Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life, a business-focused motivational parable by former children’s author Spencer Johnson. Though first released in 1998, the book became hugely popular here in China in 2000’s, where its message of adapting fluidly to ever-changing environments and breaking with formal thinking resonated with a populace that was experiencing economic and social change at an unprecedented speed.

What Forces Could Possibly Bring Chinese Telecom Giants Together?

Of late, the principles Johnson outlined in Who Moved My Cheese? have become even more relevant in China as apps and e-commerce have emerged as an enormous, lucrative, and yes, fast-changing businesses. Perhaps the foremost example of this business model is the Chinese Internet and e-commerce giant Tencent, best known for its ubiquitous messaging platform WeChat and IM program QQ. Recognizing the demands of the market, Tencent developed WeChat, which has, for many Chinese mobile users, completely replaced SMS and even phone calls with its instant text and voice messaging features. More to the point, WeChat usage cut into the bottom lines of the nation’s large mobile providers so much that they, for the first time, were forced to work together to recover lost revenues. After more than a decade of feuding, China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom are finally cooperating and are poised to offer free text messages to users. This ability to break the enormous monopoly of the state-owned telecom providers has earned Tencent global plaudits, and demonstrates the principles of Who Moved My Cheese? In action: seeing the coming change and embracing it quickly.

We chat assist our daily conversation in and out office

WeChat facilitates daily conversation inside and outside the office

Don’t Break the Bank, Break Your Business Model

Another great way you can see how quickly Chinese firms must adapt in this changing, cutthroat market is by looking at Yu’E Bao, a finance platform and investment service launched last summer by Alibaba Group, owners of some of China’s most important web platforms and services (Taobao and Alipay, to name a few). Yu’E Bao functions as a sort of bank card, facilitating payment on online purchases, but also features substantially higher savings interest rate than traditional banks. Ever the disruptor, Yu’E Bao (which means Talisman of spare money in Chinese)’s future-oriented business model quickly became the preferred payment method of Chinese online shoppers, attracted aggregate deposits of over 400 billion yuan (US$65.96 billion) in just its first seven months of operation. Much as with Tencent’s WeChat, this raised the ire of the incumbent state owned behemoths (traditional banks, in this case), who have found themselves unable to adapt to the type of change Who Moved My Cheese? discusses and break with formal thinking and business models. Change comes fast in China, nowhere more so than in the e-commerce realm.

Billboard of YU'E BAO in Shanghai Subway station

A Yu’e Bao billboard in the Shanghai subway reading “The wallet that makes money for you”.

Staying Current and Getting Better – WILD’s Design Insight

These are just two prominent examples, but the disruption of e-commerce here in China is just beginning.Inspired by these successes, in the future more and more companies will start considering how to better protect their “cheese” or even how to acquire better “cheese” in China.Inflexible, single-method business models are being challenged and proven obsolete.

WILDDESIGN is excited to be a part of this new wave. We believe that our clients (as well as potential clients) will require a more dynamic, overall design approach to remain competitive and flourish.

“WILDDESIGN has also changed its business model in entering China and the Asian market. Based on our client needs, we expanded from being a pure product design firm to adding services like branding, manufacturing support, and now service design. We call it “a 360 degree design solution” and it guarantees a holistic design approach that follows the project at every step, from idea to market.” – Helena Albrechtsson, General Manager of WILDDESIGN Shanghai.

However, as always, the most important thing is that our team is always moving forward and responding quickly. In a fast-changing world, you either adapt or perish, and China is perhaps the fastest-changing world of all.

You may also be interested in:

-> Product and brand localization inspiration from NIKE

User centered field research in China (Part 1/2- Research Preparation)
14 Design Trends for the year 2014
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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, 21. February 2014. Last updated 15. May 2023


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