Made in China, But Marketed in the U.S.A

Last week I was clicking around on YouTube and I stumbled upon Phil Busardo’s videos where he went to China. For those who may not know, Phil is a well-respected vaping reviewer and advocate. Anyway, the modern electronic cigarette was invented in China, and the majority of the electronic cigarette/vaping equipment that is in use today is made in China. So it’s a bit self righteous to look down your nose at Chinese-made e-cigarettes and vaping equipment, in my humble opinion; even though there are people who do so. Anyway, I was particularly interested in one video in particular, because he made an on-site visit to Kangertech, whose products I use.

Before watching this video, my only exposure to Kangertech (also referred to as just ‘Kanger’) was via their official website, and vendors who sell their products. Now I don’t know what I pictured in my head regarding the Kanger company, but I didn’t expect them to be as big (2,000 employees) and advanced as they are; especially in the areas of R&D and product testing. And I blame that on lack of exposure. Like many American consumers, I assumed that Chinese manufacturing corporations had the primary focus of producing the most product for the lowest cost. Phil even mentioned that in the video here (at 11:08):

Now it’s safe to say that I was pleasantly surprised and glad that I was. However I feel that Kanger is missing a big opportunity here. I know that Rome was not built in a day, and many of these Chinese e-cigarette companies are quite young (less than 10 years old). However when it comes to Western consumers, they love to feel a connection with a brand. For that brand to have a story. What makes your product distinctive? Why should I choose your product over the competition? Sure, the performance and quality of products can many times speak for themselves. However if you are not a monopoly, then you always have to worry about consumers choosing another product over yours. So why not sway their emotions over your way?

The Case of Blu E-Cigarettes

Blue E-Cigs: sucky performance, but who cares – it makes you look good!

In 2014, it was reported that Blu E-Cigarettes enjoyed 47% of the market share and had $226 million dollars in sales. Of course availability is a factor (Blu e-cigarettes are sold at a wide variety of major retailers, while Kanger products are mostly sold online and in specialized ‘vape shops’), and some customers may really enjoy the futuristic design, packaging and features of Blu e-cigarettes. But do they outperform what Kanger has to offer? No way. But their marketing is light years ahead. Sure, both companies have pretty websites. Kanger perhaps does an even better job at featuring their products, both graphically and in regards to information. But their website is missing a soul. This is most likely because their are no pictures of people on their website. No “feeling” is conveyed when looking at their website. Who is the target market? High end customers? Customers who are looking for reliability? Customers who are looking for style? Etc., etc. Blu paints a picture of a fun, yet stylish alternative to smoking. It’s liberating…freedom in a little black stick with a blue LED on the end. It’s kinda edgy and cool.

At The Heart of Good Marketing is Good Communication

Kanger’s website, especially their FAQ page is just riddled with awkward grammar. This tends to be a problem in their product packaging and instruction manuals as well. This is really a shame too, because their actual products are very well made; and even the build quality product packaging is fantastic. I mean my EMOW kit looked like something that Apple could have made! But the shoddy English taints it all. And it’s perplexing. Because the company obviously takes a lot of care and pride in the quality of their product. But effective marketing is an afterthought.

On another YouTube video, another vaping reviewer, Ken H., talked about his customer service experience with Aspire, another Chinese e-cigarette company. I have the video below where he talks about it (at 5:16); but basically, he contacted Aspire’s customer service and they completely missed the boat on solving his problem because of English communication issues. The end result is that he has a pretty low opinion of Aspire. This isn’t to say that he can’t change his mind or give Aspire another chance. That’s not really the point. The point is, this was a missed opportunity to establish a good relationship with a customer and turn them into a true fan.

The Steep Learning Curve of Western Consumer Sensibilities

I don’t know if this is common knowledge among Chinese companies or not, but Western consumers, especially Americans ones, tend to view the term “Made in China” with a sense of disdain. On an intellectual level, we get it; in that if we want these cool new shiny products, and we want them at an affordable price, then they are going to be made in China (or Mexico, or Guatemala, or another random low wage, high output country). I’ve been in the thick of such discussions for years…beginning with the wretched ‘Chinese {musical} instruments will be the death of us’ talk that I heard in the early 2000s when I worked at Sam Ash. Thankfully, I think that the shoddy quality myth is slowly being laid to rest. I mean of course if a clarinet is made in China, it’s not going to be made to the standards of an American-made clarinet. But it’s also not going to fall apart in your hands either.

However there is this sense of dread that Western consumers feel about Chinese products, and even I feel it, is that you have limited recourse if there is something wrong with your product or even your experience as a customer with any Chinese company. Ok, so you may have an address in this hemisphere where I can send a defective product and get a replacement. But can I call you? Can I talk or email someone that can fully understand me and serve my post-sale needs? Yes, it is difficult to bridge the cultural divide. But it can be done. The Japanese have done a wonderful job with it and you don’t get that same sense of dread when buying a Yamaha or Sony product. Yes, those companies are much bigger, much more established and have more resources than your average Chinese company. But I would also argue that the explosive success of these companies would not have happened if they would have neglected the importance of consumer trust.

Yes, Western consumers are a confusing bunch. It’s not enough with us that a product is made well. It might be important; but it may not even be the most important thing. We ultimately want you to answer the question “How is your product going to benefit me more than the next one will?” If you can answer this question, and you can answer it well, then you are in our pockets…trust me!