Dreaming about creating your own clothing line or launching a new brand of weight loss tea? The full potential of importing from China can only be achieved if it’s combined with a well laid out branding strategy. Branding a “Made in China” product is in general easy, and it barely makes a difference on the bottom line. In this article we explain how this can be done, and why neglecting this can cost you a fortune.
Why branding makes sense for importing businesses
Are you a small business owner? Forget about competing on price with multinationals like Wal Mart and Mediamarkt. Larger volumes equals lower prices, and you won’t get anywhere near those of the mentioned companies. Besides, Wal Mart can afford to make big mistakes. You can’t.
Yet, there are huge numbers of small businesses importing from China and still making good profits? As a matter of fact, quite a lot of products sold by large retailers are imported by small businesses. How come? The answer is branding. A printed logo or a custom designed product packaging communicates a message. It tells a story about a company or a product, which in turn adds value to the business.
But who cares about a brand nobody’s ever heard of? Well, it’s not really like that. After all, global brands like Coca Cola, Apple and BMW started from scratch too. A brand cannot be well known from day one. Thus, arguing that small and relatively unknown brands are useless makes no sense. Besides, consumers in the EU and US are moving away from big brands to a certain degree. Smaller brands are often considered more “authentic” (well, at least among those Berlin Hipsters) and sporting a big Ralph Lauren logo is considered rather tacky. The latter is still cool in China though.
Selling and owning a brand, rather than acting as an opportunistic trader, makes it possible for a small business to reach a decent profit margin. As a matter of fact, I think that pretty much all of our really successful clients focus on brand building.
How a product can be branded
I got great news for you. Branding “Made in China” products is actually quite easy and it barely makes a price difference in most cases. However, a product must be branded before it’s shipped from China. Therefore branding is part of the manufacturing process. Branding can also be done in a variety of ways. Below I explain how your China products can be branded:
This one is pretty straight forward. You got a product and you want your logo on it. Most suppliers, in industries as diverse as LED screens to Wristwatches, can offer a buyer logo print on the products. Besides, it’s quite cheap. While prices still vary depending on the logo size, colors and the product itself – the branding cost barely makes a difference on the bottom line. Most products can be branded with a printed logo for less than US$1 per unit.
Western customers are spoiled. They (well, that’s us) require products to not only fulfill a need, but also to be pretty. The product packaging is usually the first thing a prospective buyer lays his or her eyes on, and we all know how important it is making a good first impression.
A product packaging can be branded in many different ways. The easiest, and usually the most cost efficient option, is to have a logo printed on a standard product packaging (i.e. non-custom design). Customized colors are usually available. It’s also possible to design product packaging on your own. Yet, it’s not as easy as it might sound. Customized product packaging may require tooling, such as costly injection molds. This is always the case when manufacturing custom designed plastic packaging.
Many small businesses import no name products from Chinese wholesalers. This is a scenario when branded product packing makes a lot of sense. It allows the importer to brand a product, without actually interfering with the manufacturing process. Besides, certain products look better without logos (i.e. neck ties).
However, a product packaging design must be compliant with relevant product labeling regulations. Product labeling is often part of product safety directives, such as CE in the European Union, and CPSIA in the United States. Importing products with improper labeling (thus non compliant with the applicable labeling regulations) may result in a forced recall. That’s a serious hit for most small businesses.
But there’s help to get. When you order a Starter Package, we confirm which labeling regulation applies to your product, and specify in details what you must know before designing a product packaging. Click here to read more.
Customized design (OEM)
Nothing makes a product stand out as much as unique design. However, developing a product from scratch takes time and requires a certain degree of product knowledge. Keep in mind that there’s no universal definition of “good quality”. Instead, the importer is required to provide the Chinese manufacturer with very clear product specifications. These include, but are not limited to: dimensions, colors, materials, components, product certification standards and other quality requirements.
How to get product branding right
Things do go wrong when importing from China. Excitement over a new arrival can quickly be replaced by a sense of desperation when you open a box of iPhone cases, and the logos are printed on the wrong position, in the wrong color and in Times New Roman – instead of Calibri. In order to avoid such nightmare scenarios (forget about returning anything to China) you need to provide your supplier with overly clear instructions and product specifications.
The problem is that there’s no template that works for all kinds of products and branding options.
However, the fundamentals for a logo print always include the following:
Color (Pantone or RAL code)
Type of printing (i.e. engraving or screen print)
Tell your supplier to send at least one branded sample before you pay anything upfront. When the production starts, it cannot be reversed. Any misunderstanding between you and the supplier can easily ruin a whole batch of products.
Branding is more than a logo
While we’re not a branding agency, we’ve spent years participating in the product development process for small to medium sized business. I’d say that we have a few things to say about the topic. There are various ways to stand out on the market and get the consumer’s attention. In my opinion, a well designed logo is only the first step.
Kevin Ackermann, founder of BACA Jewellery Limited in London, provides a good example for others to follow. The jewellery market is incredibly competitive. Launching a jewelry brand certainly won’t make the headlines. Instead of doing what has been done a million times by others (or try to compete with Swarovski), Kevin managed to find a unique angle by combining a classic jewellery collection with a charity program. That is brand building.
Want some more inspiration? You’ll find plenty of interesting success stories at Alibaba’s YouTube Channel. You’ll quickly notice that none of these businesses are faceless wholesalers or opportunistic traders, but small businesses who’ve managed to build strong brands from scratch.
We help startups & brands get quality products made in China & Vietnam
Co-founder of Asiaimportal (HK) Limited and based in Hong Kong. He has been quoted in and contributed to Bloomberg, SCMP, Alibaba Insights, Globalsources.com, China Chief Executive, Quartz Magazine and more.
Hey there, I’m Fredrik!
We help e-commerce businesses and brands manufacture products in Asia, Europe and the Americas.
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