QINGDAO, CHINA –
The first westerner hired by Chinese CE maker Hisense to head up international marketing is developing a new three-year strategy to build the brand in the U.S. and internationally.
The strategy will include “elevating product breadth” in the U.S. to add midtier TVs to complement low-end models, bringing Hisense brand major appliances to the United States, and stepping up dealer support, said JoAnne Foist, appointed recently as international marketing director.
“We have a timeline on when to grow the business, and now we’re working on how to get there,” she said during an interview here at the company’s world headquarters. In the U.S., “our primary emphasis is on growing the Hisense brand while continuing growth in our OEM.”
Foist said the company began building its brand internationally and in the U.S. as far back as 2006 but that most of its U.S. sales remain OEM sales to other suppliers and OEM sales to retailers for their private-label brands.
One of the keys for any Chinese company to build its brand is to change the traditional Chinese practice of “doing things methodically” and “changing the organization so people will take risks,” she said.
Chinese suppliers in general have played it safe in international markets, largely by focusing on OEM sales, but if they become “less risk-adverse,” she said, their branded sales will “take off” in international markets.
To build its brand in the U.S., the company plans such step-up branded products as its first 3D TVs and Android-based TVs for the U.S. market, perhaps as soon as Christmas, said Foist. “We’ll push to have as much as we can this year.”
Hisense offers 3D TVs in China and countries other than the U.S. Its first Android TVs became available in China about three months ago.
“We will definitely improve our marketing in the U.S. and catch up with the technology of the tier one brands,” said marketing department manager Rolland Zhang.
Also to build the brand in the U.S., the company is making changes to its U.S. sales and marketing team to populate it with more westerners. “Local talent knows the market,” Foist explained. “Some are on board already.”
The company will continue to build local team resources in sales, marketing, logistics, service, R&D, and the like, she added.
The enhancements will support the company’s continued expansion of regional and national accounts in the U.S., where she admitted the brand has been “hard-to-find.” As part of its distribution expansion, the company added Fry’s Electronics and hhgregg as retail accounts in 2010.
“There are no immediate plans to use online retailers, but when we do, we plan to start with our current retailers’ online stores,” she added.
Building the brand also requires “a lot more marketing dollars,” she noted. “You can’t just be a good brand in the U.S.,” she said. Success requires a pull strategy as well.
As part of a pull strategy, Hisense will initially partner with retailers to support their ad efforts on a market-by-market basis, Foist said. Eventually, “we’ll have to do consumer advertising,” but the company needs to build retail distribution first, she said.
For appliances, the company will “continue to grow and expand OEM business in national accounts across the U.S. by leveraging our existing partnership with Whirlpool,” she said. But, she added, “We plan to introduce the Hisense brand (refrigerators, laundry, air-conditioning) in the U.S. with retailers that carry both consumer electronics and appliances, building on the family design style of Hisense.”
Foist came to Hisense after working in such industries as home building, recreational vehicles, health and fitness, timeshares, and in-home health care. Her functions included brand management, identity development, sales/marketing communications, field sales team training, strategic marketing, retail merchandising, and product strategy.