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issue: December 2008 APPLIANCE Magazine

Appliance Line
China Is Letting Its Brand Go Bad

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Tim Somheil, Editor

If "Made in China" is stamped on the appliances you sell, then "Made in China," like it or not, is one of your brands.

Tim Somheil, Editor

There are many good products coming out of China, but a lot of high-profile problem products as well. Like it or not, tainted milk from China does affect consumers' perception of electric food processors from China. They share the "Made in China" brand, and some consumer segments are increasingly identifying, and avoiding when possible, products that are made in China. There are even how-to books and a number of Web sites dedicated to helping consumers find non-Chinese products.

The appliance industry sources huge numbers of small electrics, consumer electronics, and even white goods out of China. The vast majority are high-quality appliances, well made, certified to international safety standards, and—because they're made in China—they offer a cost advantage that enables the consumer to get a better product for the price.

Of course, it is a vast overgeneralization by the public to associate well-made appliances with tainted milk, but that association is reality.

And the behavior of the Chinese government is only making the situation worse—for you, and for all the other companies sharing the "Made in China" brand.

China's PR Fumbles

This is the pattern consumers witnessed during recent high-profile product safety scares:

At the outset of the crisis, China's government typically takes an insistently defensive posture. This does not come across as righteous self-confidence when, time and again, it's proven to be falsely grounded.

The government tries to divert blame or even deny responsibility in the face of clear evidence, which dramatically undermines its credibility in the eyes of offshore consumers.

The government announces dramatic steps to solve the problem. These steps are seen as hollow if the crisis soon repeats itself (such as the melamine in pet food crisis followed by the melamine in human food crisis), undermining the government's credibility still further.

It all begins to look like so much political dissembling, and consumer unease with these products continues to grow.

China—for the good of all the enterprises that manufacture consumer goods within its borders—desperately needs to take a more honest approach. When there's a crisis involving Chinese-made products, of any kind, the country needs to embrace that problem immediately and publicly.

Owning a Crisis

Consider how pleasantly surprised consumers would be if they saw China demonstrate willingness to take ownership of a crisis, without hesitation, and provide full disclosure on the problem's cause and scope.

And consider what the impact would be if offshore consumers saw this approach consistently. The credibility of the government as a spokesperson for the "Made in China" brand would grow—and China would get real credit from the public for its considerable product safety efforts.

Maybe the best possible scenario in the next few years is to move many consumers' perception from negative to neutral. That's still a huge step in the right direction for all manufacturers with "Made in China" stamped on their products.


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