haier-757691.gifChina's consumer electronic firms still have a lot to learn from their foreign counterparts, argues ($) the Financial Times following a visit to the International Sino-CES show last week.

The show, held in Qingdou and now in its fourth year, lacks the “sheer scale, glitz and glamour” of Hannover's CeBIT or the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas, according to the FT's Paul Taylor, a long-time colleague of mine.

Now, I have been to CeBIT almost as many times as Paul but I can't remember the mammoth event having too much in the way of glitz and glamour.

However, I think he's spot on with this assessment:

While browsing among the booths it becomes apparent that China's swelling ranks of domestic information technology manufacturers are eyeing the world's markets with growing interest, not least because of their perception that an international presence will drive innovation and help hone their marketing skills, which still have a long way to go.”

The article looks at how China's OEMs are trying to shake off their no-name image and move up the value chain to sell branded products. One is Hong Kong-based Top Victory Electronics (TPV), one of the largest LCD television makers in China, which has manufacturing operations in Fujian and Beijing.

TPV has a 30% share of China's fast-growing LCD television market and it began as an OEM supplier to companies such as Dell, Sony and Sharp. Now TPV has begun to promote its own brands, which include AOC and Envision, in overseas markets such as the US.

Some Chinese companies have jump-started their global branding initiatives by forming JVs with established overseas vendors. For example, Hong Kong-based TCL became the world's biggest television maker after forming a JV with Thomson of France to build television sets and DVD players.

Haier, the world's fourth largest white-goods producer, has decided to go it alone. It abandoned a bid for Maytag of the US last year, and instead it has invested heavily overseas manufacturing and marketing operations, and expanded R&D spending.

However, the FT argues that Haier's international ambitions could be hampered by its branding, as its corporate logo, which features two swimsuit-clad children, is “cutesy” and inappropriate for western markets, according to brand experts.

So, are China's brand-name electronics manufacturers poised to conquer better-known foreign brands from Japan, Korea and the west? The answer is “not yet”, because they still have a lot to learn in key areas like branding, customer service and marketing.

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