Entrepreneur Wu Yuli, who has been attending the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) for several years as an exhibitor, noticed a strange phenomenon faced by her fellow Chinese attendees.
Representatives of ODMs, or original design manufacturers, would often come by an area where a bunch of Chinese companies were gathered, and asked if they wanted their services, said Wu, who heads WE.LOCK, a Shenzhen-based manufacturer of AI locks.
"At present, China's development in 'smart manufacturing', production process and software technology are no less progressive than any other countries, but some Chinese companies still could not gain global recognition. I think the biggest factor has to do with our lack of brand awareness, or expertise in brand communication," she said.
While Chinese innovations serving as a beacon for the country's role as an emerging tech leader, many Chinese companies, especially smaller firms, still find it hard to compete with global rivals due to subpar marketing strategies, some attendees told China Daily at the show.
The world's largest technology show draws tens of thousands of spectators every year. This year, over 175,000 industry professionals, including more than 61,000 from outside the US, have convened on the Las Vegas Strip to showcase their latest products.
CES attendees from China have made their presence known in various fields such as 5G, smartphones, the internet of things, autonomous vehicles, robotics, home appliances and digital health.
Representatives from around 1,100 Chinese mainland companies made the trip to CES. The Chinese vendors account for more than a quarter of the show's exhibitors.
They include well-known Chinese household names such as TCL, Huawei, Lenovo and Haier, as well as startups.
"Forty years after China's reform and opening-up, China's supply chain, manufacturing chain, as well as its talent pool, have probably grown to the top position in the world," said Wu Peng, general manager of marketing and sales at Dreame Technology, a Tianjin-based company that specializes in smart household appliances. "Along with the development of these basic infrastructures, Chinese brands have become very competitive in the world."
Citing the fast domestic growth of the vacuum cleaner sector in China as an example, Wu said he is confident about the future development of Chinese innovations.
"Our company's R&D team is based in Suzhou. In fact, many of the world's top tech firms have set up their R&D centers in Suzhou," he said. "Chinese engineers have independent innovation ability and independent R&D ability. We believe that if our marketing abilities could go up to the next level, then smart manufacturing in China will not be inferior to any other countries."
Wu Yuli pointed out that Shenzhen has a strong supply chain, but lags on brand communication.
"This beautiful video was shot in Los Angeles. It's hard to find similar professional brand-packaging companies in China," she said, gesturing to an ad done for her brand at her stall.
Ben Zheng, marketing director for Shenzhen Pudu Technology, was showcasing an AI catering robot from his company. Zheng noted China's development over the years from copycat to a leader in new technologies.
"The environment of Chinese restaurants is different from those abroad. How to adapt our technologies to different markets is a challenge and opportunity for us," he added.
Amy Zhang, public relations manager at Robosea, a Beijing company that specializes in underwater drones and technologies, said a major challenge when it comes to promoting products is consumers' lack of familiarity with underwater activities.
The research firm Kantar Millward Brown noted that unlike older generations, many of whom had a negative perception of Chinese brands, the young consumers around the world are becoming more receptive to "Made in China" products, as innovative brands like drone maker DJI continue to gain revenue and following internationally.
In its 2018 report, the company listed Lenovo, Huawei, Alibaba, Xiaomi and Air China as the top five Chinese companies establishing "Brand China" as innovative, cutting-edge and pioneering.
Researchers also mentioned several challenges faced by Chinese sellers even as they make headway in the global market, namely a lack of brand-building investment and limited brand awareness among targeted segments of clients.
Also, Chinese brands need to overcome people's negative perceptions about the products' durability and safety by improving the perception of trust, researchers wrote.
Chen Junxun, principal consultant at Momentum Digital, a digital agency specializing in B2B digital strategy and content marketing, noted the importance of establishing a good brand for Chinese sellers who want to succeed overseas.
However, Patrick Santucci, senior communications manager at DJI, who lauded his company for "being at the forefront of creating drone technology", explained that marketing one's products overseas presents unique challenges.
"The culture is very different. I think there's a learning curve coming from China, to try and market in the US. It's very different. Maybe it's just the learning curve in terms of how to adapt your marketing to the US or Europe, because it's extremely different from China and a lot of the Asian countries," he said.