Tag Archives: marketing

Timi the Bao’an

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For most countries, the responsibility of street-level law enforcement is relegated to single organization; China however is rife with them. Among these enforcers are the Bao’an, an unarmed branch of Chinese law enforcement. Unlike police, Bao’an have little means by which to enforce anything. By western standards, they are under-trained and generally have a disheveled look about them. As such they often broker little respect from others. Not long ago however, our activities with ALBA caught the interest of one of these individuals, as we have gotten to know him we have consummately impressed by his dynamism and depth of personality.

Wang Yuehou, we often refer to him as “Timi”, was born in Hubei province in the late 80s. He grew up in a broken home, which in China is a very uncommon occurrence. Disappointment and sadness were heavy in his voice as he explained how his home situation isolated him and was the cause for many of the taunts he endured from his classmates during primary school.

The taunts didn’t last long however. At age 11 Timi left school and began working in a restaurant. After a time there he began work with his brothers making furniture. From furniture making, he moved on to painting walls. Always eager to learn more and advance himself, Timi views his previous jobs as failures for their lack of such opportunities. It was after his tenure as a painter in Tianjin that Timi finally came to Beijing and took a position with the Bao’an, a job he has only held for the past 3 months.

When asked about why he took the position, he states that he had hoped he would be able to advance himself and his knowledge by working with the Bao’an. While he states that his expectations in this respect haven’t been met, he is fortunate enough to be charged with monitoring the very busy Nanluo Guxiang shopping street, a street littered with unique boutique stores that sell a wide range of interesting goods. It is also a place we frequently go to draw on the street and spread the word about our brand ALBA. It was there that we first met.

Bao’an have a rough job. Wages are meager, hours are long, days off are almost non-existent. Frustration is further compounded by the lack of respect that many of them have to endure while trying to maintain some semblance of order. The job does have its perks however. While the hours are long, down time is spaced in such a way that motivated individuals can still find time to study other things. Bao’an are also often used to run security for concerts and other events, which means that they occasionally get to take in a free show. As an additional perk, the area that Timi works in has given him opportunity to expose himself to many of the products that are sold in the area, which plays into his other interest: e-commerce.

Over the course of our discussions we have come to find that Timi is fascinated by e-commerce. He is resolved to learn how to use Taobao, China’s top e-commerce platform, and start his own shop. His interests extend well beyond that though. He is keen to learn everything from language, to music, to art, and beyond. His ultimate goal however, is to get the opportunity to travel abroad.

Timi told us that his involvement with ALBA and our fan-club/creative circle has encouraged him to pursue his interests further, especially when it comes to design, e-commerce, and marketing. In turn he has been very kind and helpful by letting us know what to expect each time we go out to his area to spread the word about ALBA.

Timi really is a diamond in the rough. He is a dynamic individual with a voracious appetite for learning and being creative. His drive to learn more and improve himself is inspiring. We are very happy to have him as a member of our group, and hope that he will be able to use the community we are building to reach his goals.

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A Difference in What Drives Us

As we’ve touched upon before, the thought processes of a business professional and an artist are radically different. 

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This man obviously cared a great deal about his investment portfolio.

Typically speaking the business person aims to explore and research market and consumer demand, these are the marks by which they navigate their path to success.  Great business people can anticipate market demand and offer products to the consumer before they even realize they want it.  They are shepherds to the masses, earning their living by cultivating the flock to desire the goods and services that they are offering.

Artists are motivated by a different force entirely.  The artist explores the self and the mind.  There is no compass to guide, only aimless wandering in a quest for greater expression.  Unlike the business person the artist produces for the sake of creation.  There is often little concern for the market, because the artist generally presumes that no matter what, there will always be someone out there somewhere that is willing to buy.

There are many industries where these two mindsets meet and clash.  Ours is certainly one of them.  This difference was probably no better pronounced than in one particular situation we experienced at our company…

 

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There’s a reason our business cards look like this.

 

At one point we decided it might be in our best interest to draw upon some Chinese influences for our designs.  In order to research this and draw inspiration Vali read through a collection of Chinese horror stories by Pu Songlin entitled Tales from a Chinese Studio.  Many of the stories in the book focused on Fox Spirits.  These cunning creatures were known for taking the form of a woman, seducing a man, and then slowly draining the life force out of him.

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Vali: “In other words, a woman.”

Given this was a common theme and had potential, our cartoonist quickly jumped on the concept and produced this design:

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As a westerner closely involved in the project I’m very fond of this design, but as a business person I felt that it was time to poll the audience.  I kindly asked him to get some feedback from some of our contacts.  Some of you recall however that saying the word “feedback” to an artist is often like saying “bath” to a dog.  Though I’ve come to find it’s not really that, it’s that artists have a different feedback system.  They want artists’ feedback, not consumers’ feedback.  I digress, after few days he came back and told me he had asked some 6 people, and they all told him that they liked it a lot, and that they couldn’t hide the expression on their faces just how much they liked it! The seventh person however, who happened to be a very good friend of ours disagreed, she told him that Chinese typically don’t envision fox spirits in this way.

He rode off the comment, citing this particular friend’s frequent negativity.

So we disregarded the one negative review out of seven, and almost went on to place the first sample order.  The night before, I got a gut feeling that maybe I should run the design by some of my other Chinese friends.  I showed it to two people, both of which said the same thing, “This is not something that Chinese people will understand.  It’s a cultural difference in perception, to us the fox is a bit scary, the colors are wrong.”  In other words, they won’t wear it. My artist was trying so hard to explain to me that this is art: some will see and not understand, while some will see and love it.  The most important thing is that is okay with the design.  As a business person I was struggling to explain that this is not art, this is business.  If we were to make any money from anything, our designs need to be appealing to our customers, and the best way to find that out is to poll the audience.

It doesn’t help that Vali is a life-long skate punk, or that he may well be an eccentric genius.  He’s an iconoclast by nature, show him something done a certain way only for the sake of tradition and he’s prone to fly at it like an Angry Bird gunning for a green pig. 

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You could say he flies in the face of tradition

 

Naturally he also questioned the relevancy of my people’s comments. Frustrated I suggested that we put the design on Weibo (the Chinese version of Twitter) and see what the people out there thought about it. These were random people, so if their comments tipped in my favor he said he would consider changing the fox spirit design.  Naturally I won, and naturally he has yet to revisit the concept.

 

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It’s a Pyrrhic victory.

 

I was hoping that he would learn a lesson from what happened. If we want to become a brand, then we have to stop being only product focused and listen to what our target customers like.  People are very willing to give us their opinion, we just have to listen carefully.  My artist however is still an obnoxious little nuisance, but at least I learned a lesson.  I realized that I didn’t need to search for some mysterious arcane business knowledge, or ask seasoned business gurus what to do to succeed.  I realized that I only needed to listen to my customers and do what they told me.  Very soon, we saw the benefits from it.

 

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