January 27, 2006

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Book review: Billions: Selling to the New Chinese Consumer

Billions: Selling to the New Chinese Consumer by Tom Doctoroff

The rapid growth of Chinese trade has seen an equally rapid growth in "how to" books by various China experts and insiders. The pitch is simple: author spends years slogging in difficult Chinese business conditions, learns valuable lessons, distills them in 250 easy to read pages, sprinkled with anecdotes and unlocks the keys to the (Middle) kingdom. It's an alluring prospect and a modern one: an offering of a short-cut to avoid the difficulties of hard work and experience.

Tom Doctoroff is a marketing man, running JWT in China for years. It is not spoiling the book for me to give you the two keys to successful marketing for foreign mutlinationals in China: be Proctor & Gamble and/or hire JWT. But despite the not-so-subtle extolling of his own agency's virtures, the book has strong merit.

Before we get to that, a quick instruction guide to reading this book. Do not read the introduction by Sir Martin Sorrell, unless you are looking to fill your quota of China cliches. Unless you're in marketing, skip Part 2. But the rest is worth reading. Sprinkled with photos from ad campaigns, Doctoroff lays out his rules for success in selling to the two key Chinese markets: the 100 million urban rich (or middle class) and rising mass market (the 300 - 400 million urban poor). Despite a predilection for lists and bullet points, Doctoroff has a keen insight into the Chinese mindset and culture. And that's the true value in this book.

It should not be read by marketing people - I'm not in the field but the book seems to only skim the surface of marketing in China (which may be the point; why else hire an expensive JWT marketing consultant?). But it should be read by anyone from the West trying to understand what makes the Chinese tick. A slightly annoying habit of dropping in political barbs along the way can be excused for the incredibly consise summary from pages 16 to 28 of Chinese history and culture. Doctoroff clearly has not just spent years living in China, but learning and absorbing China as well. In fact the first 100 pages are the strongest of the book and would form a solid base for a longer and deeper analysis of Chinese history, culture and people and how it applies today.

Buy this book and read it for its insights. You might pick up a few tips on selling in China, but more importantly you'll likely be far more enlightened as to how the Chinese think and work. Such an understanding is crucial in dealing with a newly assertive China, reclaiming its (in its own eyes) rightful place as a world power. If marketing doesn't work out for Tom Doctoroff, he could offer his services to his country as a cultural go-between, bringing much needed understanding in Washington and Beijing of the respective mindsets and cultures. I even know a good agency to handle his marketing.

It is my policy to note books that are sent to me gratis for review. This book was sent by JWT to me for review. I've sent it on to another blogger who may have further insights.

posted by Simon on 01.27.06 at 11:34 AM in the Reviews category.


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There's also this article he has online, which probably comes from the book, and a recent interview with Doctoroff.

posted by: Matt on 01.28.06 at 12:51 AM [permalink]

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