Huawei is better than Apple in the eyes of Chinese consumers despite their preference for global companies, new poll reveals

But local brands outpace international names in China’s fast moving consumer goods sector, says another study

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 May, 2018, 6:48am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 May, 2018, 11:11pm

Chinese consumers prefer Google over Baidu, China’s biggest domestic search engine, but home-grown smartphone maker Huawei over Apple, according to a survey released by independent research company Reputation Institute on Wednesday.

But none of the world’s most ubiquitous brands, be it Coca-Cola or Colgate, ranked among the top 10 names in the fast moving consumer goods category, with Chinese products dominating shoppers’ carts, according to another study.

Google took fourth place in a ranking of 155 Chinese and multinational companies’ reputations based on Chinese consumers’ views, while Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications manufacturer, placed second overall. Baidu lagged far behind in 125th place, while Apple was ranked at No. 12.

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“We believe that companies here in China are held to higher standards than other companies in other parts of the world,” said Nicolas Georges Trad, executive partner at Reputation Institute.

Trad said even the best rated companies scored less well in China compared with elsewhere.

“The reason for that would perhaps be that the regime here in China is very well reputed, so consumers expect companies to live up to the same types of standards that the government does.”

Chinese home appliances manufacturer Haier also featured in the top 10, which included companies such as Swiss luxury watchmaker Rolex, Finnish phonemaker Nokia and German airline Lufthansa. The top-rated company was US technology giant Intel.

We believe that companies here in China are held to higher standards than other companies in other parts of the world
Nicolas Georges Trad, executive partner, Reputation Institute

The study polled 30,000 Chinese consumers on 280 domestic and international companies with the biggest revenues and visibility in the first quarter of 2018. Only 155 companies with the highest familiarity among survey participants were included in the final results.

The respondents were asked to rate the companies based on trust, esteem, admiration and good feeling, and the average formed a company’s overall score.

Nasdaq-listed Baidu is Google’s biggest competitor in China, and accounts for 82 per cent of the country’s online search market, as opposed to Google’s 10 per cent. But Baidu is compliant with Chinese state regulations on internet censorship that have kept Google from operating in the country.

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It was hit hard by an advertising scandal in 2016, when medical student Wei Zexi, who had pursued cancer treatments he had seen in promoted web searches on Baidu, died of his illness.

Before his death, Wei had accused Baidu, among other parties, of misleading him. That sparked a major public and media backlash in China that negatively affected Baidu’s reputation.

That appears to have continued to this day, with Chinese consumers rating Google higher in terms of governance, fair business practices, ethical behaviour and data privacy in the study.

“Google has a great reputation globally. In addition to that, we tend to like what we can’t get. In terms of Baidu, people know there are certain restrictions to the product,” said Trad.

“For Baidu, the whole data breach in the context of the Facebook [controversy] is building scepticism and lowering expectations of the company.”

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According to the survey, more Chinese consumers also believed that Huawei “stands out from the crowd” and is more “genuine” than Apple, whose reputation in China was damaged by the Foxconn working conditions scandal in 2012.

On the whole, the survey found that multinational companies were more reputable in the eyes of Chinese consumers than domestic firms. Participants under the age of 44 overwhelmingly supported foreign companies over Chinese firms.

The survey did not measure the reputational fallout from a series of recent rows between foreign companies and the Chinese government over references to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau and Tibet as separate countries.

The US hotel chain Marriott, US airline Delta, global high street fashion retailer Zara and medical equipment maker Medtronic were forced to issue public apologies for offending China’s “territorial sovereignty” as a result of these controversies.

“There’s much more strength and national pride in the average consumer in China today than in the past. Over time, these considerations will have an effect on how people perceive brands,” said Peter Prodromou, chief executive of marketing agency Racepoint Global.

Local brands do dominate the mainland’s fast moving consumer goods sector, according to a study by market research company Kantar Worldpanel.

Coca-Cola may have been the most chosen consumer brand for a sixth straight year globally, picked from shelves 5.8 billion times in 2017. In mainland China, however, Yili topped the rankings and was picked up by consumers 1.2 billion times last year, up 6 per cent from a year earlier.

The dairy brand was followed by rival Mengniu, whose sales frequency remained flat at 1 billion times in the same period. Yili and Mengniu are the only mainland brands with sales figures in the billions.

Other Chinese brands among the top 10 included Taiwan brands Master Kong, flavouring brand Haday, rice cake and flavoured drinks brand Want Want, processed meat brand Shuanghui, also known as Shineway, dairy brand Bright, instant noodle brand Uni-President, personal care brand Liby and drink brand Nongfu Spring.

“Global brands still lag behind their Chinese rivals, including Taiwanese brands, when it comes to reaching more consumers and growth in extending such coverage,” Jason Yu, general manager for Greater China at Kantar Worldpanel, said on Thursday.

Among the top 10 risers in mainland China nine were local brands, with Japanese probiotic drink brand Yakult the only exception.