Opinion: Marketing in a China-centric world

How to keep your brand from obsolescence when the U.S. is no longer the No. 1 economy

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Every marketer should be planning for the day that China replaces the U.S. as the world's biggest economy and emerging countries start flexing their muscles. That day is coming—possibly as soon as 2020, according to a prediction based on new research from Standard Chartered Bank.

Perhaps the most stunning forecast to emerge from the data is that the makeup of the top 10 economies in the world will be completely different by 2030. The U.S. will fall to third place, after India (which will be about 50 percent larger than the U.S.). The next biggest economies, in order, will be Indonesia, Turkey, Brazil, Egypt, Russia, Japan and Germany, the report says.

If the predictions come to fruition, many of our assumptions as marketers will have to change. Right now, Indonesia, Turkey and Egypt are rarely thought of as future economic powerhouses. Fewer than half of the countries on the new top 10 list are in the G7, and Egypt isn't even a member of the G20.

The changes could affect things as fundamental as language. If English is dominant in only one country in the new top 10, how long will it remain the international language of business?

While this might seem daunting, it also presents an opportunity for marketers. To make the most of these trends, brands will need to truly embrace the cultures of China, India and other nations that they may not have focused on in the past. Leaders of global brands will need to develop their fluency in international cultures beyond the level many have reached today. We'll likely see considerably more captains of industry from outside the U.S. than we see today.

Sending in expats won't work, so brands will need to develop talent in the markets their companies serve. That, in turn, will mean a massive shift in a global business culture no longer dominated by Americans and the English language, perhaps with unexpected consequences. Cultures outside the U.S. will likely have different sensibilities about issues such as diversity and inclusion as well as about sensitive matters like corporate governance.

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If we're not thinking about how to prosper in this world, our businesses will suffer or die. Some companies are embracing the trend and looking for ways to get to know their future customers. Dyson, for instance, just announced that it's moving its headquarters from Malmesbury, in the U.K., to Singapore, where it plans to build its electric car in a new factory. With more of the top 10 economies in Asia, this is a good strategic move.

Unilever, headquartered in both London and Rotterdam, is another example. It has research and development centers all around the world, including in the U.S., the U.K, the Netherlands, India and China. The philosophy is less about learning to sell more in emerging countries and more about learning what types of products to build and create next.

As China cements its dominance —the projections suggest its economy will be twice the size of the U.S. economy in 2030—trade alliances, based not on geography but on position in the global economy, will likely evolve to counter its power. The EU's importance to its members will grow as European economies look to stay relevant. It's easy to understand why the EU has made it absolutely terrifying for a country to leave, given what's happening with Brexit. The U.S. might be wise to seek trade partners instead of trade wars.

We're only now at a tipping point. China is just beginning to overtake the U.S. In recent years, we have seen U.S. tech companies become the biggest companies in the world. We may wonder who will challenge giants such as Amazon globally. We probably don't have to look any further than Alibaba (which already has more active shoppers than Amazon), unless Alibaba one day simply acquires Amazon.

Let's face it, companies from the new top 10 are going to start buying Western brands more and more rapidly, so we should be prepared for well-known American companies to get snapped up. When the buying binge begins, say goodbye to marketing that only reflects Western sensibilities. What constitutes a strong brand will look very different in this new economic world order, and only the marketers who fully embrace this will survive.

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