China Paradigm interviewed Matthieu Rochette-Schneider, the Greater China General Manager of Centdegrés to discuss brand intelligence in China and how they design for the Chinese beauty industry.
Growth in the Chinese cultural and luxury industry brings new opportunities for brand design in China
Between 2004 and 2014, the EUSME report recorded dramatic growth in the Chinese cultural industry of over 6000%, reaching almost 4% of GDP. The growth indicates that Chinese society is becoming more receptive to traditional cultural influences on design and the arts. This can have a positive influence on design agencies and encourage them to become more aware of the increasing cultural sensitivity of Chinese consumers through brand intelligence in China.
Based on Matthieu Rochette-Schneider, Centdegrés is specialized in the luxury industry in China, which is estimated to be 40% of the global luxury market with a growth rate of 6% per year in 2025, according to McKinsey. The growth of the Chinese luxury market also generates demand for brand design to strengthen companies’ brand awareness in the Chinese market from visual identity to brand intelligence in China. For instance, as Matthieu has mentioned, the Asian activities account for nearly half of the total business of Centdegrés and it’s still growing. Nevertheless, he disagrees with the statement of “it’s the time for Chinese brands to dominate” and is more comfortable explaining this promising trend as part of a long process that includes Chinese soft-power and cultural projection. Therefore, brand design in China is a critical and much-needed process that companies must go through. Also, Chinese brands can leverage their heritage in their brand design, and it is important to be successful nationally before going international market.
The core of brand design: Strong emotional bonds with your brand in China
There are several challenges for companies that want to enter a new market. They need to investigate national trends and rebrand in the Chinese market. According to Matthieu, creativity and brand intelligence are the only solution, and this has been the approach taken by Centdegrés since its inception 32 years ago. However, it is difficult to define and replicate the magic formula of creativity, and the only way to find the right path is to build strong emotional bonds with your brand in China. For a brand design agency in China, this solution can be illustrated in two aspects. The first is co-creation, it is necessary to integrate their values with clients’, which means thinking from the point of clients and being creative and generous enough to generate and share ideas for free. The second aspect is through engaging themselves in the relevant country, culture, and brand. These are the keys to getting brand intelligence in China right.
“If you are designing it because you believe the Chinese brand will add value to the Chinese global brand value, you are engaged. And if you are engaged, you are doing something different.”
Lessons learned when beauty brands rebrand in the Chinese market
Centdegrés has collaborated with several well-known brands in the skincare and cosmetics industry (Learn more about the beauty sector in China before and after COVID-19): MG mask, Hapsode, Sephora, etc. After joining the L’OREAL group in 2014, the MG mask became a leading brand in the mask industry in China. Centdegrés’s strategy for its brand design in China also contributes to success. Matthieu Rochette-Schneider and his team noticed the disconnect between ingredients, benefits, origin, and the story of the MG mask. In consequence, they decided to emphasize the heritage of MG by focusing attention on its original Chinese ingredients and its hard-to-copy craftsmanship. They did this through packaging design and it was a successful case rebranding in the Chinese market. As previously mentioned, highlighting the brand’s distinctive heritage can help to clarify the brand identity and consolidate its competitive position. Leveraging the rich, national cultural heritage is an example of brand intelligence in China but also in many other countries with long histories.
The international footprint and their open network enable Centdegrés to co-create with companies with a multi-culture background. In 2016, Centdegrés helps Hapsode with its brand design in China. Hapsode is an unprecedented alliance between a Chinese company and a Korean cosmetic brand, which is the first such case in the Chinese beauty market. Centdegrés worked on every front to give Hapsode a specific identity (quality, customer care, eco-friendly) from logo, brand platform, packaging, boutique design, artistic direction, and audiovisual productions.
Another impressive case related to rebranding in the Chinese market was Sephora’s limited-edition collection with Marvel. To celebrate Marvel studio’s 10th anniversary, Sephora China chose Centdegrés to design this collection by combining aspects of both Sephora’s and Marvel’s identity. The idea was to integrate Marvel’s rather masculine universe with the beauty and feminine universe of Sephora. This edition allows Sephora to convey their supportive brand image for female power, appealing to Chinese Millennials.
“They all have this magic fuel in them. We created it with the fuel of beauty which is something inside Sephora. We reveal it to others, and we make a parallel between the power of Captain Marvel and beauty. Finally, it worked quite well.”