US brands face a mixed reaction in China, as consumers react to the presidency of Donald Trump and his threat to impose tariffs on imports from that country, new research reveals. A joint study by two Shanghai-based companies, marketing strategy consultancy China Skinny and online market research firm Findoout, surveyed 2,000 consumers across China in late February 2017.
It found that 41.2% of Chinese consumers had a more negative view of the US following Trump’s first month as President; half (50.7%) were neutral and 8.1% viewed the US more positively. China is the US’s third-largest export market after Canada and Mexico, and has been the fastest growing one for some years, but, even without the threatened tariffs for China, Trump’s actions are likely to affect trade, said China Skinny.
It noted that Chinese consumers can be sensitive to negative media about a country, something Japanese brands learned during a territorial dispute in September 2012 when Japan’s top three auto companies experienced year-on-year declines of 35%-49% in a market that was otherwise growing. Since President Trump was elected, it added, sentiment towards US autos has fallen, but by only 3.4%.
Buying American property and stocks, travelling to the US, and studying in the US were the three categories most negatively impacted in the study, with a net 17.7%, 13.9% and 10.0% of consumers respectively seeing them more negatively. Food & beverage, mother & baby and beauty products were the next most affected with a net sentiment decline between 5-10%.
But President Trump has not been entirely negative for American exporters to China. “Although overall Chinese consumer sentiment towards US brands has taken a hit since Trump was elected, categories that have the biggest impact on America’s soft power have actually improved including movies (11.8%), music (5.4%), sport (1.5%) and media (3.5%),” noted Mark Tanner, Managing Director of China Skinny.
“It indicates that Trump has piqued curiosity among Chinese consumers and increased interest in American culture overall,” he explained. “In an obscure way, that could help American brands who understand these motivations and can tailor the marketing mix to them.”