If Taiwan, an economy consisting of mostly of small- and medium enterprises, wishes to play a part in China’s domestic demand market, the most important strategy is to understand how the “Taiwan” brand is recognized by Chinese consumers. Many products from different countries have identical characteristics, yet consumers tend to place different values on products based on their countries of origin. This indicates that consumer behavior is affected by the product’s country of origin. Therefore, when it is necessary to enhance the brand of “Taiwan”, what exactly are we enhancing it with? And what kinds of products will be affected favorably?
Being the representative city of China’s economic and cultural development, Shanghai’s per capita GDP has exceeded the national average by approximately three-fold. Almost all of the world’s 500 largest corporations have established their Asia-Pacific headquarters here. Compared with the rest of the country, Shanghai’s residents have the largest appetite for imported goods. Foreign companies testing how well their products are received in the Chinese market prefer to market them first in Shanghai. This study researches the awareness and impression of the “Taiwan” brand among Shanghai residents, as well as their willingness to purchase Taiwan products.
In this study, interviews of focus groups and other in-depth interviews have been employed. The basic criteria in selecting interviewees include the following: length of residency in Shanghai being at least 10 years, place of work being in Shanghai, monthly family income exceeding CNY 10,000, monthly personal income in excess of CNY 3,000, and having traveled outside of China. To identify and explore the differences, the selected interviewees were further divided into three groups: those “having had no contact with Taiwanese and who have never been to Taiwan,” those “having had frequent contact with Taiwanese but who have never been to Taiwan” and those “having had frequent contact with Taiwanese and who have visited Taiwan multiple times.” The interviews were conducted with 5 to 6 members in each group.
Eight different aspects are explored in this study:
1. With respect to the image of the country of origin, whether the interviewees have had contact with Taiwanese has an impact on the results, although there are no significant differences in the general trends.
2. After having become familiar with people from Taiwan, a gap in the awareness of the political status of Taiwan becomes apparent.
3. The effects of Taiwan’s image as a country of origin on Taiwanese brands are mainly reflected in the food and computer categories. In China, Taiwanese products do not have a clear, uniform image.
4. Consumer behavior among certain Shanghai residents is still influenced by nationalistic sentiments. When Chinese products become widely available and with improved quality, people will turn to support their own country. The scope of Chinese products, however, does include those from Taiwan. In other words, nationalism is a positive force for Taiwanese products rather than a factor in weakening its image as a country of origin.
5. Image of the brand’s country of origin vs. manufacturing location: The way Shanghainese consumers distinguish the country of origin of a brand is simply by the identity of the company’s owner or proprietor. If he or she is Taiwanese, the brand is considered from Taiwan, because a Taiwanese boss represents a mode of thinking, specifications, technology or management philosophy that is uniquely Taiwanese.
6. Regarding the willingness to purchase Taiwanese products, the following is the order of preference among Shanghainese consumers in the technology and food product categories: Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea. For other categories, however, the preferences cannot be ascertained since the interviewees are unaware of any other product categories in which Taiwan has an advantage, or of any well-known Taiwanese brands.
7. Those who have never been to Taiwan are found to be eagerly looking forward to visiting the island due to the perceived mystery factors. However, those who have visited Taiwan generally express a certain degree of disappointment because Taiwan’s tourist attractions are still being operated in a traditional manner, and it is difficult to attract Chinese tourists, who have a cultural background similar to those of the island’s residents.
8. On the whole, how Shanghai residents associate a brand to the “Taiwan” image has yet to be fully explained. “Management quality, technological craftsmanship, meticulous service, creativity and innovation” are the four pillars for successful marketing in China by Taiwanese brands.
Emotionally, Taiwan is a concept quite familiar to the people of Shanghai, and yet, in fact, the island remains mysterious and strange. In general, the view of Shanghai residents with respect to Taiwan is positive and amiable, and they regard Taiwan as a progressive society. However, due to the fact that Taiwan has never regarded China as one of its principle markets, the island has yet to carry out an open, comprehensive and all-encompassing marketing campaign on the mainland. As a result, most Shanghai residents do not have a genuine understanding of Taiwan.
This study recommends that the Taiwan government launch a comprehensive advertising campaign to promote Taiwan’s image, with an effort to incorporate Taiwan’s world-famous brands to create a superior image that is “sophisticated and advanced”, so that Chinese consumers will be able to make a clear association of quality products with the island. As for the promotion of Taiwan’s tourism industry, it is also necessary to go beyond the approach which targets only tourists from North America, Japan and Europe (such as aboriginal culture, Taroko Gorge and fruits). Instead, a fresh new image of technology, innovation, culture and Eastern religions need to be established for the island. It is also recommended that corporations planning to engage the Chinese market may employ a marketing angle that caters to the nationalistic sentiments of Chinese consumers and can work to the advantage of Taiwan: proclaiming Taiwan to be the most outstanding representative of the Chinese people!