By Mike Bastin.

As the Apple brand powers on and on, some say inevitably towards the world’s first $1 trillion brand, one of the key challenges facing further progress is expansion inChina. While there are obvious obstacles for Apple, or any foreign brand for that matter, inChinasuch as effective government contacts and protection of intellectual property rights, the clear advantage Apple has is its emotional brand image among the Chinese public. Many throw Nokia’s spectacular demise into discussions on Apple’s future; however Nokia’s brand image inChinawas, and remains, very different to Apple’s.

Nokia enjoyed huge success in China until recently but, this was achieved with rational positioning of the brand only, i.e. Nokia was perceived as ‘‘hi-tech’’, ‘leading edge’ and of course ‘excellent quality’ but did not achieve, or even attempt, any emotional positioning within the minds of Chinese consumers.

If brand history tells us anything it is that sustainable competitive advantage is only achieved with effective emotional brand values as well as a functional or rational proposition. This, more than competitor technological advance, is key to Nokia’s recent fall.

Apple, au contraire, enjoys a brand image which includes not just ‘hi-tech’, ‘state of the art’ but also ‘fun’, ‘cool’, ‘fashion’ and ‘happy’.  It is these emotional values that have contributed most to Apple’s success, especially inChinawhere the public value emotional association greatly.

Apple has positioned itself so positively and emotionally deep within the minds of Chinese consumers with brand name and company place of origin association. California is perceived by many Chinese people as ‘cool’, ‘exciting’ with Hollywood and a sunshine, beach culture. The brand name also evoked feelings of: ‘fun’ and ‘happiness’.

Apple also continues to benefit inChinafrom the association with the late Steve Jobs. To the Chinese Jobs is seen as a charming, engaging, effortlessly charismatic, stylish leader, which adds considerably to the brand’s emotional image inChina.

Of course the colour ‘green’ also excites an emotional feeling which includes ‘fresh’, ‘nature’ and ‘energy’.

Apple’s logo, with a bite having been taken from the apple, also contributes to its emotional image, creating a feeling of excitement and even opportunity.

Such a successful strategy in China, where brands are still consumed publicly for symbolic meaning such as ‘status’ and ‘success’, should be noted not only by Apple’s closest competitors but by all those companies seeking to win over the extremely brand-conscious Chinese public.

Despite Apple’s success inChina, perhaps the major challenge to Apple’s increasingly emotional brand image is accurate financial brand valuation, especially inChina.

Apple, therefore, paves that way for different financial valuations according to groups of consumers who interpret and perceive the brand very differently. For example, Apple to most U.S consumers really is ‘hi-tech’ and ‘functional’ but while the Chinese also share this interpretation they also perceive Apple as a vehicle to enhanced ‘status’ and ‘prestige’. Financial brand valuation, therefore, has to become multi-faceted, driven by emotional perception and not financial ratios.

Apple will eat into China’s consumer market and enjoy the fruits of success and at a healthy pace.

Mike Bastin is PhD student at School of Contemporary Chinese Studies, University of Nottingham.

Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors.

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