Will history repeat itself?

American companies were largely caught flat-footed by the influx of low-cost imports from China at the end of the last millennium.  The competitive juggernaut began as a trickle in the 80s and accelerated into the 90s in a trend that is widely understood and acknowledged.

But US companies have battled back – that’s what we do.  American manufacturing competitiveness leads the world.  (Although manufacturing jobs have dropped our manufacturing output has grown consistently and substantially.) As Americans do, we responded with creativity, innovation and determination and clawed our way back.

And now China’s largest manufacturing challenge is actually stemming the flow of manufacturers fleeing as its own manufacturing costs have soared, largely eliminating the cost advantage.

But remember that we had endured similar challenges from other Asian economies (e.g. Japan) before, but were still caught unawares by the Chinese ascendance.

It may be about to happen again.  Will we acknowledge it and preemptively meet the challenge?

B2B Marketing will be the next competitive battlefield

global business international inbound marketingWARC (@warceditors) recently presented a digest of a study done by PR Newswire of Chinese marketers. Read the article for more data, but much of the information is captured in this quote.

“brand owners in China are heightening their focus on content marketing, with digital platforms like microblogs, video and mobile assuming increased prominence”

Let’s put aside for a moment the whole debate regarding intellectual property and the ethics of a “copying culture.”  We must acknowledge that the Chinese have shown themselves to be quite adept at identifying what works and duplicating it in various forms.

So recognizing that they can’t predicate successful future competition solely on their low cost strategy of the past, they are awakening to the need to market proactively.  And even a cursory overview of the current marketing landscape brings any observer to the inescapable conclusion that a core (there are many flavors and approaches) of content marketing is the appropriate strategy for today’s markets.

Therefore we shouldn’t be surprised that the determined and capable business people in China will adapt their approach and adopt content marketing approaches.

First mover and quality

But before we freak out….what’s the first rule of content based inbound marketing?

Quality content is the foundation.  And quality content is creative and original – that’s what makes it awesome and shareable.

And what’s the most common indictment of the Chinese approach?  Lack of quality, followed closely by lack of originality.  Are you seeing a competitive disadvantage here?

Without a doubt Chinese marketers will be far more effective inbound marketing to Chinese customers.  (We know a lot about international marketing.  This is an example of why it’s critical to “know what you don’t know” and to use local resources.  So your company could also effectively inbound market in China if you do it correctly!)  But their early efforts to create English language inbound marketing inertia from their offices in China aren’t going to be very good.  Experience tells us they will quickly improve.

That means that for the foreseeable future, skilled American practitioners of inbound marketing will have an edge in the US market and a number of others.  While that edge will eventually vanish, another attribute of good inbound marketing will buffer early adopters against sudden competition.

The nature of inbound marketing creates a substantial “first mover” advantage – just as it doesn’t provide immediate results when you start.  If you start sensibly (good strategy, well researched personas, remarkable content mapped to stages of the sales funnel and presented via complementary channels, consistent off-page SEO, etc.) within 6-12 months you will have established a head start that will be nearly impossible to overcome in the short-term.  And presuming you stay ahead of trends then your advantage will create a competitive barrier for much longer.

And that advantage, of course, would distinguish you not only from import competition from China, but also from your domestic competitors.

Like it or not, it’s a global market

That’s reality.  You will face increasingly competitive import challenges.  But from your selfish perspective you don’t necessarily need to outrun the lion – you only have to outrun enough of your herd to that the lion will be sated by others.

You understand that, and devote lots of resources to your product innovation for just that reason.  But let this be your call to action – you MUST innovate your sales and marketing approaches as well.  Start now as early action provides a clear advantage.

And also recognize the corollary to the reality of import challenges.  You can play that game too!  There are amazing “green field” market opportunities in developing markets.  Seize them!

So really the question isn’t whether history will repeat itself.  Of course it will.  The real question is whether you’ll get caught trying to pick up a dime off the road in front of the steam roller or whether you’ll create your own opportunities.

This confluence of factors is precisely the premise of Consilium’s unique approach to business development.  Evolutionary marketing and new markets – using inbound marketing best practices to set yourself apart, and then doing so in rapidly growing markets.  That’s business for the 21st century.  Contact us today to discuss how we can help you stay ahead of the horde, your competitors, your demanding banker or whomever is nipping at your corporate heels!