Written by PollackPRMktg on March 30, 2011.
Richard Block is Vice President of Marketing for Haier America. In that capacity he leads all marketing initiatives, as well as company and product promotions, through a variety of marketing platforms. He also directs the company’s relationship with the National Basketball Association, in which Haier is named the Official HDTV of the NBA. With 30 years of experience as a marketing veteran, Mr. Block joined Haier America in June of 2006.
Q: Given that Haier has so many different product categories, how does product marketing work at Haier – does the company form different silos for the marketing of each brand, with different goals, strategies and tactics or does it all fall under one company umbrella? Does each category work with its own team, whether in house or outsourced?
A: What it really comes down to is as follows: there are many different factories, all with their own teams; marketing, product merchandising and otherwise and, everyone runs their own individual company. It’s pretty much that simple… Once the product comes to market, I work with the product marketing groups that are responsible for each individual product and discuss strategy with them. Then, based on what they (in the factory) want, I execute that strategy. As such, I don’t own that strategy, they do. I do own the Haier brand, so when it comes strictly to branding, that’s something that I can execute outside of their realm.
When you look at the NBA official partnership relationship with Haier, that’s something that I execute and do for the entire Haier brand.
When I first started here five years ago, Haier had an “unaided” awareness of about 7%; it’s tripled to almost 20%; “aided” awareness is now up to almost 40%. The truth of the matter is that I believe the NBA partnership is great for the television factory. For example, I chose to use the designation of the NBA, as an official marketing partner, for nine categories because it just sounds better, works better, looks better and feels better. Most think that it’s a very strong vehicle for the TV division, but I think the whole company benefits as well.
Q: Are all your products/product categories branded under the Haier name globally or does it differ according to regions?
A: Most of what we do is branded as Haier; however, there are sub-brands. There are many companies we’ve done business with, and even here, we have sub-brands. The only part that is a bit disappointing is that because of this, we don’t have 100% of the effort going in the same direction. When you’re doing sales for a sub-brand, you cannot really market under that brand, so the investment goes to the overall pie, and gets taken down by a notch because all the monies are not going toward one goal.
Q: Haier was recently ranked by Euromonitor International, the world’s leading independent provider of business intelligence on industries, as the number one brand of major appliances in the world. What overall strategies does your company employ to retain that position, most specifically, in the US? Does social media play an important role in connecting to your customers?
A: We are very proud of that designation. Especially so, when you take into account that Haier America is a fairly young player in the United States (almost 12 years old), and that this designation is worldwide.
As to social media, the NBA partnership was key in growing our overall branding effort on that platform. We use other advertising and marketing vehicles that also impact the social media component. Just take a look at what was accomplished at the recently finished NBA All Star Weekend with our production of a 20-25 minute international infomercial; sponsorships of shooting stars for the 5th year before the 3-point and the Sprite Slam Dunk – all of which netted literally 1,000s of tweets and re-tweets! When I get a new analytics report following the All-Star Weekend and it shows that our onsite traffic for that weekend (or month) was the highest of the whole year — then you tell me how successful that is!
Certainly, our commitment within the digital/social media arena will continue to grow and we are already exploring and testing new programs.
Q: As a Chinese headquartered company, what are the cultural challenges that you encounter, if any, as to marketing operations?
A: Well, look there’s no question that there are challenges, but I don’t really think it’s because we are a Chinese company, rather because we are a foreign company, with people separated by social barriers and 12,000 miles. Often they just have different ways of looking at business aspects. In China, while they manufacture for a certain price, we actually have to buy it at a higher cost because we’re their customer and it costs a fortune when you consider freight, gasoline, time, energy/effort — whatever, to get it over here. So right away that’s a disadvantage. The other issue is in terms of distribution. China believes in a localized strategy. In China, there are hundreds of Haier kiosks and stores. As such, they have a built in customer distribution base, which is a tremendous advantage, especially when you consider that in the West we deal with the Best Buys, the Lowes, the Targets, the Wal-Mart’s or wherever in the world we sell. In the book, The Higher Way, it clearly delineates the Chinese localized strategy. This also works in our favor, since China believes that their partners here in the US, certainly know and understand the social ways of this country best, and while offering help/guidance/support, they do allow us to run the business from New York, as opposed to China.
Q: Haier’s partnerships with the NBA offer a great tie-in opportunity with a key target audience. Based on that, is Haier planning to expend its partnership program beyond sports?
A: We are always looking for new partnerships. I literally take hundreds of calls and emails about new opportunities every day. I can’t even begin to fathom how many people want to do business with us. Often I feel much like Michael Douglas’s character in Wall Street, when he said, “I look at hundreds of deals and I say yes to one of them.” We need to be very discerning. I don’t necessarily think that sports are the best value, nor the right targeted demographics across the board. For, at the end of the day, although we want to see our television and electronics businesses continue to grow, we also want to continue to do business as a leading air conditioner manufacturer in the United States and the number one compact refrigerator manufacturer in the United States. Really, we see the thrust, the focal point, of our growth, in major appliances. It’s no secret that we want to continue to grow as the number one appliance brand in the world and continue that strength here on the shores of the US.