How Americans and Chinese are alike – and then they’re not

I recently heard some Chinese colleagues of mine on a trip to the U.S. mention how geographically big are the United States. For instance trips between U.S. cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles require long car rides (when not flying). That was interesting to me since China in terms of geographical size is relatively close to the size of the continental United States. Part of the reason is likely due to the fact that the Chinese do not drive long distances nearly to the degree that Americans do, preferring to travel by train (or plane more and more), since that is what they are more accustomed to doing.

It made me think more about how many Americans probably look at China and Chinese people. My supposition is that most Americans think that China east to west, north to south is filled with Chinese people who eat Chinese food (with some regional variety) and do Chinese things. It would be unlikely for many Americans to know that people from Beijing are quite different from people in Shanghai and in fact there is some disdain on the part of both for denizens of the other.

There are certain behavioral expectations when considering working with and marketing to Chinese people. Shanghai residents see themselves as the sophisticated and worldly representatives in China as if it were akin to Paris or New York in China. Beijingers see Shanghainese as being too fashion conscious, too materialistic and too frivolous. Shanghainese look at Beijingers as dour, not fun loving and serious – what you’d expect from the seat of the national government. It’s not quite the same as New York – Washington or even New York – Chicago but I hope you get the idea. I’ve made enough trips to China to have a basic understanding of what to expect when meeting and doing business with people in different areas of China based on where they live and work.

The same can be said of the way many Chinese view the United States. It is highly unlikely that most Chinese people would understand the difference between a New Yorker and someone from Chicago, or Los Angeles, Miami or Dallas. However if you asked an American to draw a profile of those living in any of those five cities they’d have a pretty good idea of the regional differences and perhaps even behaviors of residents of those cities.

Why might this be important? For Chinese companies (and any country unfamiliar with the United States) marketing to Americans, considerations must be factored for regional differences. Not simply from a weather standpoint (like not trying to sell ski gloves to Miami residents), but from the standpoint of how the city’s residents live and behave (or misbehave) in their daily lives. Marketing approaches can and should be tailored to meet those regional differences. This is not to infer that a ‘national’ marketing strategy would not be successful. There are marketing messages that would resonate on a national basis in both countries. The point is that we would expect subtle changes to marketing efforts based on regional preferences here in the United States and the same axiom should be considered when marketing to China – to the other we may look similar but looks are very deceiving.

Do you have a product that you are interested in marketing in China? There’s much to consider and location plays a huge part in that equation. Do you introduce it in Tier 1 cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin or Guangzhou? All four cities have both similarities as well as differences. And for Chinese companies looking to develop the United States market the same is true – where you start is as important as which channels you choose to employ when launching.

Most New Yorkers would be a bit put-off if they were considered to be the same as Chicagolanders, or San Franciscans. And conversely Beijingers would likely cringe if they were viewed to be the same as people from Guangzhou.

I feel regional differences are what make things interesting – how about you?

About markkolier

Futurist, entrepreneur, left lane driver, baseball lover
This entry was posted in Business in China, China, Communication and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to How Americans and Chinese are alike – and then they’re not

  1. suzie Gailing says:

    Mark, This is a wonderful article. I have traveled to China twice a month for many many years. Every city feels that they are superior than the other beautiful cities. They all have qualities that have much to offer. Our cities in the United States are the same way. Beaches VS. mountains and deserts. Styles vary in much of this country. That is what makes us unique!China and the United States are more alike than they realize.
    I loved this article Mark!


    • markkolier says:

      Thanks for reading and for your nice comment Suzie. I did not realize you had that much experience traveling to the middle Kingdom! Whether people believe their city is superior or not there are differences that make them interesting – and that’s why we want to go see them!


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