China Slowly Turns from Influenced to Influencer

A few years ago I created a complex forecast for a client centered on China and how its emerging consumer segments might evolve, particularly regarding technology usage. One of the key themes for the country as a whole looking out 10 years was a gradual shift from a culture and consumer soceity ravenously downloading Western brands, ideas, memes, values and so on to a China that would stand up on its own two feet to project its own version of these to the world—from consumer to confident creator.

Image: Jakob Montrasio/FlickrChinese brands have led the way out, with now well-known names like Haier and Huawei standing alongside Western leaders like Cisco and GE. Behind that has followed the soft influence of Chinese consumers' needs as expressed to the world through exported design—in technology, consumer products, cars etc. The opening of the Beijing auto show led the head of GM Asia in an FT article on the event to say: "The only true global car shows these days are in China." The head of a company co-producing iconic black cabs in China with Geely summed it up, saying ""The Chinese get accused of just copying other people's designs, but this demonstrates their creativity and flair."

The next phase, communication, has now begun. As the Washington Post points out, while Western media contract, Chinese media is expanding to the world at large. While early steps are being made, such as beefing up foreign bureaus of domestic media—or even setting up radio stations in countries such as the US—this strategy is backed by typically deep Chinese pockets and the accompanying long strategic view. Chinese government and companies say they feel mischaracterized and want their country to be better understood by both Western governments and consumers.

This won't happen overnight, but we can expect to see not one but many Chinese "voices" emerge and expand into the media sphere with increasing breadth and depth. The voice of the government will be a strong influencer, but just as Western media moguls such as Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch have pushed their lenses on the world into its far corners, and Gulf oil has funded groups like Al Jazeera to represent and project the "Arab" world view, we can expect to see a Chinese Turner or Murdoch on the horizon soon.