When a brand sees the vast opportunities to go global with their product, it is an exciting step. Often however, it is a step into the unknown and comes with considerable risk. But as they saying goes, no risk, no reward. Today, HI-COM has a chat with one successful Australian entrepreneur, Catherine Cervasio, who saw the opportunity in China to market her luxury organic babycare products, Aromababy. We hear about her story, what she’s learned and advice she would give others.
- Can you please tell us a brief background of yourself and your company
I have enjoyed a love of health and natural beauty for as far back as I can recall. As a teenager I would often mix body scrubs and face masks using fresh ingredients from the garden and kitchen. My passion for a low tox life led me to develop my brand Aromababy, following a fruitless search for natural products over twenty years ago.
Aromababy was the culmination of many months of work – researching neonatal dermatology reports and raw material information, leading me to formulate a product using primarily natural and organic ingredients which were both historically safe for babies and provided some benefit to the skin. I combined these ingredients together with bases which were free from petrochemicals (mineral oil/paraffin), artificial colour and fragrance, talc, sulphates, alcohol, propylene glycol, parabens, animal ingredients (dairy, goats milk) and other ingredients thought to be linked to skin irritation in babies.
The result was a professional range of products for mothers and babies which utilised concentrated formulations to ensure value for money, as two decades ago ‘natural’ products were considered a luxury. I then launched Aromababy in pharmacies and maternity hospitals across Australia.
- What made you decide to launch in China, known to be quite a tricky market?
Export came early for Aromababy. As a nice brand in a market where little was known about the benefits of natural and organic, it soon became apparent I would need to look offshore for ways to sustain the business long term. China came knocking on my door ten years ago. Our first distributor was actually looking globally for a brand he could both use on his own baby and import/distribute as a side business to his biotech company.
My first trip overseas for business was to Hong Kong. I’ve long been fond of Asia and had spent time in Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan where we also exported to. China was a natural next step. It’s a tricky market with tough regulatory barriers and a diverse cultural landscape however I have fallen in love with China and find everything about the region fascinating. The opportunity here – especially for Australian made, natural products – is now enormous.
- What do you think has made Aromababy successful in the China market?
Chinese consumers now have access to products from all over the world online and shopping via mobile devices is common, and Australia is considered ‘clean and green’; its product safety, efficacy and trust are crucial in offering baby skincare. Aromababy has a long history of all three elements. In addition, we have a long history of exporting to other Asian regions. E-commerce did not exist when we began exporting to China so we took a more traditional approach – working with retailers and offering education. I’m certain these elements have helped us build a solid base from which to work. Parents often desire an emotional connection with health and beauty products – this is particularly true for mothers purchasing baby products, from milk formula to skincare. When Chinese parents research Aromababy they can quickly discover we are a well-established brand, successful in other markets, and that we have a long history of safety and efficacy on sensitive skin. They see us as a trusted, authentic brand. This matters nowhere more than in China.
The opportunity here – especially for Australian made, natural products – is now enormous.
- How have your marketing strategies been different in China, compared to outside of China? Do you use KOLs and much online social media marketing?
Our marketing strategy for China has been similar to elsewhere – building trust, offering information and education together with retail touch-points. Most personal care brands rely on ecommerce to enter China initially – this automatically means they need to engage KOLs or invest in digital marketing in order to ‘stand out’ from thousands of other brands. By doing what we know works, doing what we do best, we have been able to slowly gain market share. The next phase for us will be looking at a stronger digital presence and building on what we have done online – for example with Kaola.com where we currently offer an introductory range of Aromababy.
- Are there other regions/countries outside of China that Aromababy has been particularly successful? What has been the marketing strategy there?
Aromababy began exporting to Singapore and Hong Kong very early on. These are still great markets for our brand, in particular Hong Kong. Similarly, South Korea is a good market for our skincare. We entered the market there, also in retail stores, before many imported natural baby brands were on shelves. Again, in all these regions we offer educational and interactive workshops and I am on the ground there as often as possible, engaging with both consumers and health professionals as well as our retail partners.
- What about doing business in China has surprised you or fascinated you? Any interesting stories or experiences you can share?
In China there is a saying ‘women hold up half the sky’ and indeed they do. There is a strong sense of female entrepreneurship and you will often find women in top positions within organisations. I recall addressing a group of midwives on International Women’s Day in China 2017. I began with sharing some recent findings, that ‘companies with women in senior positions demonstrated higher profits’; I continued: ‘it is well known that as women we are considered to be great conflict resolvers and excellent communicators; we are collaborative and nurturing in our approach to managing staff’ and so on. I suggested that surely this means we have an unfair advantage over men? There was lots of laughter.
- If you could share a few pieces of advice for foreign companies wishing to launch in China, what would they be?
- Get on the ground there – China is a huge country with cultural differences region to region. It may not happen overnight but with persistence and patience, it will happen.
- Consider targeting 2nd and 3rd tier cities – China is more than simply Beijing and Shanghai.
- Establish your brand in your home country and perhaps a smaller export region BEFORE tackling China.
- Learn a few words of the local language. Hold on and enjoy the ride.
Thank you Catherine! Great to hear your words of wisdom.
For more information about going global with your brand or product, contact us to have a chat and connect with other experts.