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Tomorrow’s companies need to have a solid foundation

If, as a brand, you do not meet the standards you communicate yourself, your intended customers will opt for a competitor that they see as more authentic.

19 DECEMBER, 2018

Kristian Odebjer
Swedish Chamber of
Commerce in Hong Kong
Lars-Åke Severin
Swedish Chamber of
Commerce in China

During 2018, Dragon News has tried to explain important trends that will affect cities, industries, and entire regions in coming years. Cities will become smarter, and Southeast Asia is emerging both as a competitor and a partner to China in many areas. Emerging industries, such as e-commerce, are already changing our lives at a core level.

Changes in how we work, and the way in which companies are organised may be superficially less apparent, but could end up being of equal significance in terms of their impact on society. In this issue, we profile start-ups like QuizRR and entrepreneurs like Charlotta Gandolfo. They each have an interesting story to tell about swiftly seizing opportunity through collaboration, and without investing in unnecessary corporate infrastructure upfront.

So, what will define a successful company in the future, beyond generating as much profit as possible? What are the traits that will attract the attention of customers in the market place, while at the same time securing the talent needed to satisfy those customers?

There are probably as many answers to those questions as there are companies, but it is increasingly clear that employees today are looking for work that is both intrinsically satisfying and lends itself to that famous “work-life balance”. Where previous generations mainly looked at work as a means for career progression and, of course, a source of income, the millennial generation is more demanding: they expect their work to represent a good fit with their personal identity and their outlook on life.

In a Chinese context, this means that foreign companies can no longer expect that being “foreign” will be sufficient to attract the best employees. In this era of trade wars, we should also expect that at least for some Chinese graduates, accepting an offer from a domestic company rather than its foreign competitor, will provide a certain “patriotic satisfaction”.

It is also important for companies to understand some of the more materialistic needs of their employees. Alibaba, as an example, is known for its hard performance targets, but also for providing a mortgage scheme for selected managers who might otherwise have struggled to achieve home ownership. Is this done strictly out of altruism? Perhaps, but it is more likely that Alibaba realises that a person who is an employee today is a brand ambassador tomorrow. If you are in the process of building a business, you should ask yourself how your treatment of employees would look if it was featured in a newspaper article or on the TV news, because, guess what, with the arrival of social media it most likely will be!

In this issue, we also talk to Folke Engholm of Viral Access, a Swedish start-up that harnesses the awesome power of social media for the benefit of brands that want to reach a specific customer segment. The rest of the world has a lot to learn from the most innovative Chinese companies in this department.

At the same time, we need to appreciate that there are limits to what can be accomplished via a smart social media strategy. To start with, a company is not only about products or services, but about values that are thoroughly integrated into the corporate culture. Without this foundation, a start-up will go nowhere no matter how savvy a social media strategy it develops; in other words, social media can only be a part of your overall strategy, it cannot be the strategy. An “influencer”, no matter how many followers he or she has, can never alone “make our day”.

In a world where nothing stays secret for long, having a top management team that upholds the most traditional values – transparency and honesty – is priceless. If, as a brand, you do not meet the standards you communicate yourself, your intended customers will opt for a competitor that they see as more authentic. Brands, including established ones with an identity built over decades, can swiftly go into sharp decline if they fail to grasp this new reality. For an example, just look at Dolce & Gabbana in China: their disastrous marketing campaign this autumn (and the reactions it drew) managed, in a matter of hours, to shatter D&G’s brand to the point that it seemed the business no longer had a future in China.

As chambers of commerce, we have a responsibility to help our members keep abreast of these important trends. We cannot do this on our own, of course, but will always rely on strong partnerships with the best in the business. We are therefore excited to welcome the recently opened Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong to the extended Swedish family in China. We are convinced that this initiative will allow Swedish and other Nordic entrepreneurs to be at the forefront as the companies of tomorrow take shape in China.

On a final note, we would like to take the opportunity to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!