FILLING A NICHE NEED

In 2008, it was years of sector specialization and research that allowed a local Chinese detergent brand called Blue Moon to succeed in breaking into a Chinese market dominated by UnileverProcter & Gamble, and other multinational companies. The smaller company succeeded because it noticed something about the laundry detergent sector that the big companies missed.

While the multinationals focused on new products for washing machines, Blue Moon realized a significant portion of the Chinese population was more traditional and still hand-washed their clothes. Laundry powder was available for hand-washing clothes, but Blue Moon introduced a liquid hand-washing detergent that provided a better experience (no clumping!). Even after the other companies caught up, Blue Moon had snagged a steady 30% of the liquid detergent market.

That’s what happens when you combine cultural sensitivity with careful observation of industry trends. Of course, it helped that they were backed by one of Asia’s top hedge funds, Hillhouse Capital, which makes investments and gives advice to Chinese start-ups.

But even after their initial success, the company didn’t stop their momentum. They continued to launch the detergent that worked, focusing on their best-selling SKU instead of branching into various new detergents.Instead, they spent money on research and marketing. In 2011, a full three years after they successfully broke into the market, they spent USD 500 million alone for advertising. Their executives also met with a team from JD.com, one of China’s largest on-line marketplaces, to find ways to make the delivery process more efficient; they redesigned their detergent carton to fit with JD’s online delivery boxes.

In 2012, they cut advertising but then hired salespeople to directly interact with customers in supermarkets, asking them to sample-smell patches of the detergent as if it were a perfume in a department store. They were constantly trying new strategies to present themselves not as the most affordable in their industry but instead “different and desirable.”

Key Takeaways

Even small brands can beat huge multinationals, as long as they understand their particular consumers’ needs more than their competitors. Blue Moon proved that with its breakthrough liquid laundry detergent for the segment of Chinese population that still hand-washed clothes. It solved a problem that no other company solved for these people, and they won loyal customers. Even after initial success though, Blue Moon didn’t stop R&D and marketing: they kept striving to know more and to show it.

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