What Chinese Want by Tom Doctoroff - Book review

Sunday, May 27, 2012

What Chinese Want

Culture, Communism and China's Modern Consumer

By: Tom Doctoroff

Published: May 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 272 pages
ISBN-10: 023034030X
ISBN-13: 978-0230340305
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

"China's economy and people are evolving rapidly, but the underlying cultural blueprint has remained more or less constant for thousands of years. As the nation races toward superpower status, it will nevertheless remain quintessentially Chinese - ambitious yet cautious to the core", writes Northeast Asia Area Director and Greater China CEO for J. Walter Thompson,Tom Doctoroff, in his insightful and thought provoking book What Chinese Want: Culture, Communism and China's Modern Consumer. The author describes the cultural imperatives and worldview of China's fast rising consumer economy, and provides lessons for companies seeking to sell products and services into the this vast and growing market.

Tom Doctoroff recognizes that China offers an unlimited market for consumer products. At the same time, however, the author also understands that there are some very critical differences between the Chinese consumer and a customer in the Western world. In fact, the author points out that even with the influx of Western influences and culture, the people of China resist those same ideals and continue to embrace their own cultural traditions.

Tom Doctoroff presents conclusive evidence that while modernization in China advances at a breakneck pace, the Chinese people remain distinctively nationalistic and culturally conservative in their worldview. Instead of choosing the path of the individual as the core of the economy, the people of China consider the family to be the economic cornerstone. The morality of the Chinese culture remains different from that of the West, as does the strong historical connection that the people maintain with the past.

Tom Doctoroff (photo left) presents an important inner cultural portrait of the Chinese people in general, and the emerging Chinese consumer market in particular. Before the author provides his recommendations for success in the Chinese market, he clarifies the many misconceptions and myths that have grown up around the Chinese customer. The portrait of the Chinese consumer is very nuanced, and more complex than it appears at first glance. Tom Doctoroff describes how the individual in China desires standing out while still fitting in with the overall Chinese culture.

There is an overarching ambitious optimism that China can stand with the leading nations of the world and that success is possible in Chinese cultural terms. At the same time, the Chinese people seek stability of the family and of the country and how that stability is more important than individual self expression. The author also shares his insights into the unifying force of Confucian conflict where status and social mobility conflict with the desire for conformity. The individual is simply not the central figure in Chinese society, or the basic productive unit. That role, according the author, is in the hands of the family. At the same time, there is no desire for breakthroughs, as they may upset the cherished stability, presenting real challenges for both marketers and managers entering the Chinese market.

For me, the power of the book is how Tom Doctoroff presents a comprehensive analysis of the culture of China and its influence on the behavior of the Chinese consumer. The author presents the various, and often baffling traits of the customer, within the overall context of Chinese society. Tom Doctoroff breaks down the various markets and industries, and offers in depth explanations of why the Chinese consumer acts as they do, and why those actions are so different from customers in the West. The author dispels the most commonly heard myths about China, its politics, and its economy.

Tom Doctoroff provides the advice necessary for any business person seeking access to the Chinese market. The author reveals many nuances and contradictions that must be understood clearly to achieve success in the vast and always intriguing country pf China and its people.

I highly recommend the landmark and essential book What Chinese Want: Culture, Communism and China's Modern Consumer by Tom Doctoroff, to any business leaders, entrepreneurs, public officials, trade organizations, and members of the general public who are seeking a deeper and more profound understanding of the Chinese market and its consumers than is found anywhere else. This book will transform how you think about China and its potential as an important market; full of both amazing surprises and unlimited potential.

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