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 30 Jan 2013 08:00 -0500
 Daniel Sperling-Horowitz & Leo Liu

It is our belief that premium Chinese suppliers do not receive the attention from western consumers and buyers that they deserve. This under-appreciation is hurting the growth of small and large Chinese companies without discrimination. But western consumer acceptance is not to blame.

In this article we will expose the 4 Fatal Trade Show Marketing Mistakes that prevent 99.9% of Chinese suppliers from achieving their true potential. Finally, we will provide you with the opportunity to begin implementing our winning solution.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result. Yet, year after year we witness hundreds of Chinese companies making the same mistakes and achieving the same unfortunate results. Due to rising material and labor costs, relative inflexibility with US pricing, and fierce competition for Chinese domestic consumers fixated on price, OEM manufacturers must aggressively enter international markets or risk destruction. For these reasons, it’s difficult for us to watch as millions of hard-earned dollars are thrown away at international trade shows.

The 4 Fatal Mistakes Chinese companies make when exhibiting at international trade shows:

1. Not showing profound respect for english language and western marketing culture.

Although we see this more often with smaller Chinese companies, it is surprisingly common for multi-billion dollar Chinese companies to staff trade shows with company officials and representatives who cannot speak English proficiently. We also see marketing material (signs, displays, brochures) that contain many grammatical mistakes.

In today’s competitive environment the consumer has more selection and power than ever before. Any friction the consumer encounters will dramatically reduce the likelihood that that consumer will become enchanted by your product and brand. As a result, that consumer is not likely to share your products and brand in a positive light with their network of influence. Forget not that trade shows are heavily attended by technology evangelists or “early adopters” who we will refer to as “influencers.” Enchanting these influencers is the secret to mass adoption of your products.

Staffing your trade show exhibit with English speaking models is not enough, in fact, it can be a major source of frustration. Many attendees will not bother to speak with trade show models because they know very little about your products, services, and company. Trade show models should never be used to compensate for a lack of english proficiency. Models, if utilized, must be well trained and actively engaging attendees passing by the exhibit. They should not be standing by, passively, partially engaged with your product or speaking with one another. They should be walking the periphery encouraging visitors to visit your company’s exhibit.

We recommend companies think about the trade show attendee’s experience and poor reflection on their brand that this avoidable mistake surely causes.

When there are unnecessary communication barriers, the attendee thinks:

  • “If it is this difficult to communicate with their delegate, I cannot imagine what it must be like to communicate with the entire company!”
  • “If they do not have proficient English speakers, I cannot imagine they are an organized and successful company!”

The lesson here is that Western consumers will not even bother to look at your products and learn more about your company if they are not impressed by your display and the attention you are receiving from other attendees.


2. Not sharing your company’s story.

Storytelling is used to communicate practices and values that shape one’s identity. Since prehistoric times, stories have been used to establish the foundations of community. Stories are passed from person to person and generation to generation. We have observed a significant trend whereby storytelling is used in marketing to communicate brand identity and establish customer loyalty. After all, a basic human need is the need to be entertained.

Believe it or not, the average consumer is exposed to more than 3,000 advertisements per day. Today, it is more difficult than ever to capture the consumer’s attention. Companies that tell a compelling and authentic story are more likely to succeed in gaining consumer attention. Without a memorable story, your brand and products are forgotten. Authentic stories also have a tendency to increase credibility, thereby breaking down barriers of culture and consumer apprehension.

A great example of a story would be that of Haier. Haier America’s websitecorporate brochure andcorporate video contain wonderful information about the company’s development, mission and values.  These resources are excellent for consumer education, provide an excellent understanding of who Haier is as a company, and certainly build trust and credibility.

A poor example of a story would be that of TCL. When an American consumer visits TCL’s USA website, they have to scroll down to the bottom of the website and click About Us. The link takes the visitor to a webpage with the following information:

About TTE Technology
With its US headquarters in Corona, California, TTE Technology, Inc. designs and markets televisions in the United States under the TCL brand name. TTE Technology and TCL Corporation are subsidiaries of TCL Multimedia Technology Holdings Limited, one of world’s largest consumer electronics manufacturers specializing in the development of high-quality televisions and other leading technology products. Headquartered in China, TCL Multimedia operates a global network of research centers, manufacturing facilities, and sales offices.

USA Headquarters
TTE Technology, Inc.
555 S. Promenade Ave.
Suite 103
Corona, CA 92879
Ph: 877-300-8837

Who is TTE? This is inconsistent and confusing! This is far from a story, and we would expect very few visitors to establish an emotional connection to TCL’s brand after reading this page. This feels empty. 

3. Not showing uniqueness and creativity.

Western consumers have very short attention spans. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, USA, there were more than 3,500 exhibitors and 150,000 attendees. Distractions are abundant. There is a fierce competition for attention.

Many companies will never have the multimillion dollar marketing budgets of Huawei and Haier, so they must be smarter and more creative in order to obtain high return on investment (ROI) for their marketing campaigns. Guerrilla Marketing is a form of marketing we study and practice extensively for our clients. It is defined as a low-cost advertising strategy using unconventional means. 

Our favorite example of Guerrilla Marketing is the story of In 1999, the founder of convinced the city of Halfway, Oregon, USA to change its name to, Oregon, USA for one year in exchange for $100,000 and 20 computers! The strategy was tremendously successful, attracting national press attention and ultimately led to the company’s 2001 acquisition by eBay.

The lesson here is to be creative. Attract attention or you will be irrelevant.

4. Not identifying a clear target consumer and action plan.

At the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, we asked senior management of over 50 Chinese companies ranging from startups to Fortune 500 global enterprises the following question; what is your goal for the trade show and what is your strategy for selling in America and internationally? 

The answers were startling and went along the lines of;

Well, we just want to sell our products. We don’t really know very much about the [American and international] consumer. We are looking for a trusted partner to help us with this.

We are impressed by how candid these executive were. We believe this admission is a very productive cry for help. But the cries will not be answered unless you can catch the attention of the right American and international partners.


Please remember that your product rarely sells itself. Taking action and correcting these mistakes will place your company on strong foundations to compete and win internationally. 


At HD Trade Services, we actively leverage our marketing expertise and network of influence to create sales and business development opportunities for your company. We have designed a powerful international marketing solution specifically for premium Chinese suppliers. Our combination of local market expertise, and world class technology empowers you to target relevant consumers and take control of your brand and your supply chain. 

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