How brands are coping with mounting anti-China sentiments in India
Many vendors have been time and again laying emphasis on the fact that their handsets are made in India
The strong build-up against Chinese goods in the country caused by the recent border clash doesn’t seem to be dying down. In fact, it seems to be only intensifying despite these brands trying their best to woo consumers by different kinds of engagements. A recent controversy that hit home was when on Wednesday, even the Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat came under fire for attending an event organised by MG Motor. Although the company is headquartered in the UK, its overall ownership trail leads to China. And that caused chaos for the brand as the Chief of Defence fell prey to the incessant trolling because he merely attending it. BJP parliamentarian Meenakshi Lekhi and Union minister of state for steel Faggan Singh Kulaste too were at the MG Motor event, which apparently was part of a central government-promoted programme on electric vehicles. These companies seem to be doing their bit to win consumer's hearts. However in some cases, like in that of MG Motors, it does backfire. So how should they approach this situation?
According to experts, not-well-thought-of actions at this juncture that stir up consumer sentiment would only boomerang, harming them more in the long run.
Jagdeep Kapoor, Chairman and Managing Director, Samsika feels that for brands grappling with these sentiments sensitivity is advised. “Brands are built in the minds and hearts of consumers. It is not the ‘ technology ‘ of the product, but the ‘ psychology’ of the consumer, which creates brand likes and dislikes. Country brands are most prone to this behaviour. Hence the need for these brands to be sensitive in their approach,” Kapoor said.
The government recently banned 43 Chinese mobile apps. However, it should be noted that many Chinese brands have endeared themselves to Indian buyers by joining Make in India campaigns and by roping in local celebrities to endorse their phones.
Moreover, as a way to cope up with these sentiments, many vendors have time and again been laying emphasis on the fact that their handsets are made in India. For instance, 99% of Xiaomi phones sold in India are reportedly assembled in India with components imported from China.
Brand expert Gaurav Gulati feels that these brands in question should keep things low-key and refrain from making too much noise about their new products and services as given the sentiment, it could backfire any time. “The coronavirus outbreak has made the world take a different turn entirely. Things have changed at all levels. People worldwide have suffered due to coronavirus. Amidst such chaos, it seems impossible to change the mindset of people immediately about China. The biggest challenge in front of the Chinese brand is not profits, but being in business and keeping its global presence. I believe the best way to handle this situation is to stay calm and completely stop their promotions, marketing. Because no matter how big their claims are, people are going to talk about boycotting them, and word of mouth at this moment can be very influential and convincing,” he opined.
This isn’t the first time that Chinese products or brands have faced furore in India. In 2014, Xiaomi had come under the scanner and its phones were banned by Indian Air Force, after security company F-Secure found that the phones were sending details like phone number, IMEI number, name of the operator to a remote server in China. During the Doklam standoff, yoga guru Baba Ramdev had urged Indians to boycott Chinese products.
N Chandramouli, CEO, TRA stated that sometimes brands and their agencies don’t understand the general mood and its ramifications. “MG may have thought the presence of an armed forces Chief will help build a positive perception for the brand. But instead, it has had quite the opposite effect, getting the brand into further controversy,” he expounded.
Moreover, he noted that a brand that is in such a situation must remember that in building trust, the first rule is that you must not do anything that might even remotely further erode trust. “Only if the brands have a brand trust expert on their managing board will such decisions be deliberated on with greater care, else they may inadvertently continue to take actions which are what they wanted to achieve,” Chandramouli said.
He observed that while there are some Chinese companies like MG Motors which are facing the brunt of the anti-China sentiment, there are others like Xiaomi, which maintained its market leadership with a growth of 9% over last quarter. “Vivo and Oppo too were third and fifth among the top five. To explain this conundrum, one must understand the general Indian consumer mind-set. If a brand is able to provide great functionality and also gives the best price, an Indian buyer will prefer the function-price combination over anti-China feelings. Also, the price range in which Xiaomi-like products are finding their sales are in the economy-range, so it addresses the bottom-quarter of the pyramid,” Chandramouli added.
Overall Chinese companies accounted for more than 70% of all smartphone shipments in India in Q4 2019, as per IDC (International Data Corporation). Moreover, the total size of India’s trade with China was $87 billion in 2018-19, as per India’s Ministry of Commerce, with electronics accounting for $20.6 billion of total imports from China.
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