The inaugural two-day Australia-China Sports Summit kicked off this week, with a list of more than 30 prestigious speakers lined up for discussions and keynote addresses. It is the coming together of two countries: China which sport sector has been burgeoning in recent years (just in 2015 alone it generated RMB 1.7 trillion), and Australia – a country with a strong love and rich history of sport. With top representatives from sports clubs, media and entertainment brands, the Summit seeks to discuss the future of sport in both countries as well as explore opportunities for collaboration. Together with Ting ZHANG, the Partner overseeing our China operations, we presented on the general challenges of the China market and how to overcome them.
Entering China is like entering into a marriage. You get a heady rush and you see a road of good times and exciting opportunities ahead. But after the honeymoon period, you might realize – rather soberly – as challenges arise and snags happen that things suddenly seem a lot harder than expected.
China is a market like no other. Some of the most common pitfalls that businesses fall into are underestimating the changing nature of Guanxi – cultivating of relationships with different stakeholders including the various levels of government; and failing to assimilate and adapt to the local digital and social landscape. With the rapid growth the China sport industry has been enjoying, it also often slips the mind of businesses that the market is still immature. Just 6 years ago, only 6 marathons were held. Today, more than 400 races are held annually. It is also not unexpected of a massive nation with a 1.38 billion population to have an extremely fragmented market – while consumers might be gripped by the same trends, the most effective way of reaching out to them varies from city to city. To overcome all these challenges, it is essential to understand the cultural differences behind them and establish a better communication model when dealing in this market.
I think it is safe to say that the Chinese knows the Chinese market best, and so daunting as it might sound (and be), building the right local team on the ground is key to success. If you dare to recognise that your China team will never be a carbon copy of your teams from other parts of the world and give them the space to find their own rhythm, you might just find yourself pleasantly surprised at the results they will deliver. While the company’s core values certainly should not compromised, everything else is fluid and ever changing.
In short, China can be an extremely rewarding market if you are willing to give it patience, trust, compromise, communication and most importantly, a long-term commitment.