A last word: when will you see your favorite brands in Chinese marketplaces?
— One of the more impressive brand statements I’ve seen was held for 3,000 participants at Detroit’s COBO. From vendors to Alibaba employees to credentialed media, I was impressed by what I observed.
Walk around and you’ll see examples of retailers like Stadium Goods, who are strong advocates for Alibaba’s marketplace model. Then there were (very) small business owners who were less sophisticated than what you’d imagine, selling trinkets and cookies and their own version of coffee. This was all meant to represent Jack Ma’s commitment to the little guy.
There were well-designed booths dedicated to discussing government policy and informational breakouts. There were even three dimensional data-visualizations peppered throughout the conference room floor, on display to help you understand a bit of what’s at stake here. Alibaba, a company whose entire mission is to make it easy to do business anywhere struck me as a contrast to Amazon’s reputation for being hard on brands with seasonal product lines.
When you hear about Amazon, “customer” is the Amazon Prime member who receives the package. For Alibaba, consumers are clearly important but the “customer” in Ma’s eyes is the small business owner.
There will come a time when brands must invest in a quickly approaching economy. Unfortunately for many of us, the eCommerce economy often devalues brand equity while holding ease of discovery and < 72 hour fulfillment as the new benchmark for brands – big and small. By 2020, the easier your brand is to find across digital channels, the more likely the business is to thrive.
I’m convinced that the majority of savvy brands will pursue a diversity of channels, with Alibaba and Amazon at the core of their seven point strategies. This may mean reallocating inventory from brick and mortar retailer distribution for some teams and it may also means hiring eCommerce executives that will be prepared to operate with platform flexibility while maintaining brand standards.
I left Detroit convinced that American retailers will be of Jack Ma’s finest customers and that there will be a lot of brand overlap between the two platforms. As Facebook and Google’s product search economy is cannibalized (stateside) by Amazon’s fast-growing search product, delaying an Amazon and Alibaba strategy may be akin to grasping to the nostalgia of your Blu-ray DVD collection.
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