China, the world’s largest, fastest developing market, is a place of seduction, opportunity, mystery, and allure. For business, much of the allure is in the numbers: Five thousand years of history; more than 20 percent of the planet’s population; two hundred million people learning English; three hundred million Internet users; four hundred and fifty million people with a college degree or more; and, billions of dollars tucked away in savings accounts, to be spent on the latest sneakers, children’s education, mobile phones, and fast food.
Over the past decade, hundreds of multinationals have plunged headlong into China, investing huge sums and expecting quick share, instant recognition, and handsome rewards. A sizable proportion of them, however, have been stopped in their tracks by relentless competition from lightning-fast local brands and manufacturers. What went wrong? More importantly, what can companies do to succeed in the China century?
Sandy Thompson, former Head of Planning, Asia, for global ideas company Saatchi & Saatchi, faced up to the challenge of answering these questions for clients such as Procter & Gamble. Her point of departure? “If you want to understand how a lion hunts, you don’t go to the zoo, you go to the jungle!” Thompson developed a highly unconventional approach to traditional market research. Covering more than thirty thousand miles of China’s heartland by van, boat, and foot, Thompson and her team heard the personal stories of thousands of individuals: twenty-two year old millionaires and fifty-five year old billionaires, children, mothers, gas station attendants, and businessmen.
Collected for the first time in this eloquent and engaging book, the highlights from these conversations offer invaluable insights. An intimate and humbling portrait, One in a Billion draws a powerful conclusion: to be successful in China, businesses need to stop lusting after the billions, and take time to understand the one.