China Insights

Exploring craftsmanship marketing In China

Alison Ni

Former Senior Project Executive, Cultural Strategy

Brands 26.05.2017 / 09:07

Craftsmanship 2 col

Craftsmanship helps brands claim higher quality, trigger consumer desire, and justify a higher price.

China has invested more in exploring the idea of craftsmanship in recent years. Local businesses incorporate it into manufacturing and even Premier Li Keqiang stressed its importance in his 2017 Government Report. At the same time, we see more and more brands (both local and international) use craftsmanship as a key value in their branding in China. This attracts our attention to look at craftsmanship’s evolvement in the Chinese market and how brands respond.

Craftsmanship has gone through ups and downs in China. Traditionally, it was a concept being respected yet never institutionalized like in Japan, hence lacked a solid social foundation. When it came to contemporary China, the material shortage demands mass goods in large quantities to improve people’s living conditions and caused a further alienation of the idea of craftsmanship. It is not until the early 2010s that the idea is brought back to the stage by the mission to shift from “Made in China” to “Created in China” and the rising middle-class’s trading up to premium goods. Consumers gradually recognize the attractiveness of craftsmanship, especially those who are more sophisticated and demanding.

As an idea with emotional value added (it has deep appreciation of skills, creativity and perfectionism), craftsmanship represents a more ideal lifestyle, in contradiction with pragmatism advocated in past decades. For those who embrace this concept, purchasing products with cues of craftsmanship equals to the pursuit of a better life and the express of one’s personalities.

Brands are aware of this shift. Within the trend of premiumization, they tapped into different values (e.g. communicating emergent concepts like naturalism and minimalism) and craftsmanship is one of them.

Craftsmanship helps brands claim higher quality, trigger consumer desire, and justify a higher price. And because of its low presence in China in the past, much space is given to approach it in different ways.

We found brands that utilize craftsmanship in China fall into three major groups:

Emergent luxury brands creating symbolic meanings

Premium brands in ordinary categories but with artisanal touches

Mass products selling taste and style.


* Emergent luxury brands

Western and Chinese emergent luxuries usually communicate an emotional symbolic benefit and put less effort on displaying functional characteristics.

MCM, the leather luxury goods brand that became popular in China in the last 2-3 years, has shot a number of videos on craftsmanship to introduce its new bags. There are no texts or languages to introduce product features, and only close-up shots of the product-making process and product details sending the brand’s love for heritage and modernized design.

MCM presents its products through displaying the appreciation of material and craftsmanship

* Premium brands in ordinary categories

Premium brands use similar visual cues of artisanal processes in their communications, given that artisanal elements could greatly evoke and engage consumers’ desire and emotion for a better life. Because premium brands are often positioned at a higher level of quality and taste, it is not too difficult to build a credibility of having authentic artisanal features in products. However, the pragmatic reality of their humble origins and nature of products (i.e. not one to be matched with luxurious products) forces them to work harder to justify their prices and explain the benefits. Thus, in comparison with luxuries, they spent more time in explaining their product-making processes and corresponding technical features and functional benefits.

Like the Shanghai-based chain bakery Baker & Spice, emphasizes its authentic products and imported ingredients to justify the 50% to 85% higher price over middle-market bread and pastries.

Baker & Spice Cover 

* Brands of mass products selling taste and value

On the contrary, it is challenging for mass brands to prove the link between production (standardized industrial production) and craftsmanship. One way to tackle with this issue is using the “masstige” strategy to market mass-produced inexpensive goods as luxurious. In execution, mass brands could develop a slightly premium collection or launch several feature products.

Ajisen Ramen is an example with the brand promoting a feature ramen priced higher than its regular products. In its communications across all touch-points, it touches upon the core of craftsmanship (passion and unceasing pursuit for perfection) to create symbolic benefits of high quality and taste.

Brands in other categories like consumer electronic devices adopt a similar strategy. Because they do not have artisanal product-making processes, they tap into the dedication to style and passion for details to display its craftsmanship spirit. For example, Smartisan represents the attention for details via a dominant minimal visual style in combination with close-up shots on key product details.

Smartisan Sharp 

Smartisan Thin

Smartisan communicates the appreciation of details in minimalism


Although all brands mentioned above, regardless of which approach they’ve taken, have effectively communicated craftsmanship and consumer desire, only these that provide genuine benefits and blend functional with emotional benefits related to craftsmanship have achieved long-term consumer trust (which would be reflected in sales number and reputation).

Craftsmanship is gaining popularity, yet possibilities remain to be explored under the shifting socio-economic conditions. For both brands and products, it is important to look into craftsmanship’s evolving meaning to ensure cultural relevance and find emergent expressions (e.g. visual cues, language, etc.) to drive differentiation and freshness within your category. With equal importance, communicating ‘craftsmanship’ must be sincere and honest. It is imperative to state explicit benefits and make sure they are delivered.

Source: Kantar Added Value

Editor's notes

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