etiquette training in China

China Paradigm Transcript #105: Merging family traditions with etiquette training in China

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Click here for China Paradigm 104.  In this interview, Guillaume Rué de Bernadac, the founder of a business for etiquette training in China, shares how his school perpetuates his family traditions as well as the diverse types of clients he teaches in China, whether it is adults, kids, or luxury organizations.

Full transcript below:

Welcome to China Paradigm, a show powered by Daxue Consulting, where we interview season entrepreneurs and experienced managers in China about their business and experience in the country.

MATTHIEU DAVID:                                        

Hello everyone. I am Matthieu David, the founder of Daxue Consulting and its podcast, China Paradigm. Today joining me is Guillaume Rué de Bernadac. I have been very impressed by your presentation you sent to me of your company. This is one of those businesses I love. It’s niche and very clearly identified with a very clear identity where each time someone is meeting with you, they will remember what you do very clearly, and they will identify you for what you do. I believe that’s also part of the reason why you have been asked by the Chinese hospitals to train their staff, to be in the list of the potential training companies or even the actual training company. You have been working for Cartier, LVMH, Vanke, etc., and now your company, Académie de Bernadac. You have been quoted in reports such as China Daily and BBC.

What do you do? You are providing etiquette training in China and actually much more than that. It is for individuals; it is for corporations and you started your business in 2014 not long after graduating. You have been China for 7 to 8 years. You first studied and then started this business of etiquette training in China. I would say maybe this extension of business because this is in some way a family business. Your family has been in the etiquette business for decades originally at the Royal Court of Morocco for the King Mohamed V, if I get it correctly. Thanks for being with us. I am very happy to have you here.

Could you tell us more about your business in China?

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:              

Thank you very much for having me. I am very happy to be here with you and thank you for all of those who are watching us today. Yes so, it has been said that we are a company doing etiquette training in China and so this is the core of our business. We have three business models: two being B2B etiquette training in China and other being B2C etiquette training in China.

In B2B we are going to do staff training. This represents a small portion of the business, I would say around 10%. Then we have B2B2C, which is when companies are doing events for them, their own clients and so actually this is the largest possible business; all the major brands that Matthieu mentioned, and this has been the operation mode for most of the time. And the third business model being B2C etiquette training in China. So, when we organise classes for people to register for themselves, either in groups or in private, one to one (learn more about etiquette classes as a status symbol in China).   

MATTHIEU DAVID:                                        

When I think about your business, we are thinking about very elite access and would you mind telling a little bit about your pricing to the audience, for them to understand how to project into your business? The information we got from online is that you have a class for children for 4 hours, which is about 2688 yuan, which sounds very Chinese, the 88, that is basically 350 Euros. You have “Devine Deportment” classes that are close to 7000 yuan and again, your pricing is very Chinese; 6988 yuan, and “Elegantly Outstanding” class, which is 3888.

I understand those prices- and if they are wrong please correct me – are more for B2C and so, for individuals. I understand that you may have different pricing for B2B.

How do you charge for etiquette training in China? Do you charge per class? Actually, something I was surprised to understand, by package? A package for understanding deportment, a package for how to walkelegantly or how to photoshoot elegantly as well. So, is it based on a specific class? Is it a set of all classes you need to know about how to behave? Could you tell us more about the pricing and services?

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:              

Certainly. Yes, so as you said, we must do a distinction between the B2C and B2B etiquette training in China. So, in B2C the prices you mentioned are very correct. Indeed, they are very Chinese. For those watching us, you know that in the west, America and Europe or elsewhere, prices will often end with 99 and in China, it is 88, being a lucky number (learn more about their programs offered).

The curriculum for B2B and B2C programs is actually quite always the same, so if it’s adult for one day, there will be one part about dining manners, which is one of the most popular topics, and the afternoon will be dedicated to some deportment exercises and some photo posing. So, this is for adults for one day. The kids one there will be learning manners in China, like dining manners, social manners, and also some deportment exercises for 4 hours.

When it comes to B2B things are very different and indeed, price grid is larger and so are our offers. So, in B2B etiquette training in China it will be mostly large companies who need to do events for their own VIP’s and most of the time, they don’t want to do one shot; they’re doing it all over the country. They are doing the major Chinese cities, so, Beijing, Guangzhou etc. So, we tend to negotiate packages for that to cover all the events that we have for one season or sometimes two seasons. As you can imagine, prices have strong variations depending on the amount of days they book. To give you a grid, it can go to 25 000 for one day if it is a single time and if it’s with me because we have different teachers. So, if they want me as a founder it will be more expensive than if they have other teachers, in total we have five teachers teaching etiquette in China. It can be that we can have discounts to I think around 40% if they book more than 6 days, which is mostly the case.

MATTHIEU DAVID:                                        

Now, to understand better the size of your business of etiquette training in China. How many people are working on your team? We read online that you were very proud of saying that you are one of the most international teams because you have people from countries which are not that big, like Serbia or Ukraine and who are not strong communities in China. I feel that it’s very international. So, could you tell us more about your team now?

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:              

Our specificity is to provide foreign teachers from different background. There is me as French, one of my colleagues is from Serbia and we also have Russian, Ukrainian and also a German lady teaching with us. Each of them has different backgrounds and their own specialty which enables us to send relevant trainer when there is a need for the client. So, for example if they want to organise an event for kids, it won’t be the same person going if it’s a hotel willing to do training for butlers, and it won’t be the same if we are someone asking to teach catwalk or photo posing for ladies when teaching etiquette in China. So, we are ready to meet any needs (learn more about Daxue’s China market analysis).

MATTHIEU DAVID:                        

We are talking about 5 people now, right?

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:              

Other trainers, yes of course there is a team behind for the marketing and sales support, which is mostly in Chinese.

MATTHIEU DAVID:                                        

I see. The total size is like 10 people?  That’s something I’d like to talk more about afterward is your social media presence in China. I really admire what you did no your reaction and your engagement with the Chinese audience. I’d like to talk about that later on.

I’d like to understand better about your clients now. In some articles we read that 90% of people who sign up for your classes as individuals are women aged between 25 and 50, which is pretty large actually, but mainly woman; 90%.

So, how do you analyse your clients? Why do they sign up for etiquette training in China?  

I am going to add a bit of questions. Manners, even I would say maybe elegance could be very different from one country to another, from one culture to another. Etiquette, even more.

Do you behave with the same etiquette with chopsticks and knife and fork? I believe that the reasons why your Chinese clients may join your classes may be very different from why French clients in France or in Morocco or in Britain can join similar classes. What is your take on it?

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:              

Indeed, you are correct. So, if I have to draft a profile of the individuals joining our classes, it is actually quite similar to the type of people who join our classes in B2B, which are clients of our clients. Let’s say we take the big luxury of beauty brands, their clients end up being the same as our own private clients and that’s why our B2B etiquette trainings in China are successful and appreciated by these large brands because what we propose is matching the expectations and the interests of their clients (read more on Chinese luxury consumers).

So, the profile of this experience is as you said, 90% of ladies and 10% remaining are the gentleman. Either they come because the wife is coming, because the mother is coming, or sometimes that is what happens, the daughter sends them. So, 90% of them are ladies and age are indeed between 25 or I would say the big part being 30-45, but 25-50, generally. Socially speaking, they live in tier 1 cities, Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou, and Shenzhen, but mostly Shanghai and Beijing by far. We do have people travelling to attend the classes from all over China. We even had some people travelling from Australia and we did 12 hours to Shenzhen 2 years ago, it happens.

So you talk about an elite, yes you can say so. They are executives, not necessarily all millionaires, billionaires. By far, no, but people having responsibilities or in businesses, or sometimes housewives, whose husbands are businessmen. What makes them different in terms of what they are interested is they consider themselves international, and here we come to what you were asking about chopsticks or forks and knives.

So, let us be clear. They are Chinese, proud to be Chinese. They don’t want to become French, American or whatever. No, it is not about that. It is about them being travellers. Before, people would travel often to America or Europe and they want to be able to adapt and to fit in the environment they’re in, like the way that you, me and the people watching, maybe, when they come to China they know they have to learn some of the local culture to be able to adapt to local business customs. It is the same way they do. Of course, we are pretty much interested into elegance; how to look beautiful, how to look slim, but this is a concern. They want to be international.           

MATTHIEU DAVID:                                        

You said that mainly because you are presently in tier one, or do you think the market is in tier one? My understanding was tier two or three actually, with some wealthy people. Some people wanted to actually raise the level of appearance, education to a higher level, especially for the children would be as well very keen to attend classes. How do you interpret the first tier? 

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:           

So, I will say the same. It is a matter of being international or not and not about money. So, indeed, you have wealthy people all over China, but being wealthy doesn’t make it okay for us. Definitely not. We will make them a potential client for us is, do they have an international taste or not? If they have been traveling by themselves, if they have been willing to go to London, to Paris, to America or even to Africa or South America and to taste a bit of local culture, local cuisine by themselves then yes, potentially they will be interested in our classes. If they are very extremely rich somewhere deep in the province and they never get out of it, there is quite little chance of services being interesting for them. 

I will say, these same people probably won’t be your sole clients of all clients, like the big ones we mentioned from Loreal and other major brands. 

MATTHIEU DAVID:                               

When you started 7 years ago, you started certainly with a background form your family with already a lot of things in mind, a lot of knowledge already.

How much did you have to adapt to China? How much of what you do in the etiquette industry did you have to change for China in terms of content, and also in terms of ways of teaching?

I believe it’s not only the content. Maybe content you keep it, but mainly luxury brands keep the product and the content, but the way they engage is slightly different in China or even totally different sometimes.   

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:           

Here you are very right. It was the total origination of the business. So, to come back to what my family did (learn more about the Bernadac family’s story). In the 1920’s, they were teaching English, French, mathematics, and sports, but also indeed, some manners and yes, they had the future king as a student, but they had plenty of other students like him. Some people were intended later to go to study in Europe to become doctors, lawyers, or some other kind of intellectual profession. As soon as I decided to launch this business in China, the first decision I had to make was, how are we going to adapt this knowledge in first, today’s world, which is what my family used to teach 90 years ago, what was then the same needs as today’s world and especially in China.

Indeed, if I had launched a business in Europe, or in France, for instance I would have done it completely differently. People don’t have the same expectations. I have been in this industry for a while and European and American as well, but western in general wants to show credibility. They want to show service. They want to be taken with respect. So more they are looking for formality. They want to be sure to abide by the rules, to understand the rules and to be seen as someone smart/intelligent. It doesn’t mean this concern doesn’t take place in China, but what they expect from us is different. The brands that we quoted, what they expect from us is someone to give some depth in the product they are selling.

When you sell a Chanel bag or some costume jewelry it is just a bag. It is just a ring. What makes it special is that you have a brand around it with heritage, with a culture. The brand is depth and we provide in our training that we give even more depth. We explain like for instance, the etiquette of wearing it, how to work with it. When you have a beautiful ring, what kind of poses can you do to make it better looking on you. This is what we had to adapt to the Chinese customer who is looking at a completely different European one and it is a process of learning. We keep on learning. We keep on producing new products and keep on adjusting. 

MATTHIEU DAVID:                               

I understand that in some way you are helping because the company is building credibility and protecting their pricing in some way in the Chinese market by having this layer of deepness, as you said or understanding of why it is that sophisticated because indeed, as you said, a bag from a very luxury brand is not bought for this function. It is bought for deeper things in terms of culture branding as you said and image (learn about branding in China).

So, your B2B services can add a layer of richness and sophistication to luxury companies which helps protect their high pricing, Is my understanding correct? 

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:           

This is actually the definition of luxury; all the value comes from the measurement strength of emotion attached to the product. When you buy something from Channel or from one of these big brands, you buy the dream that is attached to it and this dream, you need to build it up. It takes time and it takes also some engagement, some emotional engagement and this is what we help with (read more on China’s luxury market). We help brands with emotional engagement. When people come to us, they know they can at least expect something special. They know they won’t be behaving like they do in their living room or with their friends casually on the weekends. No. They know they are going to have to pay attention, they know they are going to have to enter into a certain world where every detail matters. So, this is the dream we are making them live. This is also the depth we are giving them and this is what people are willing to pay for. 

Do you think they keep their habits after the class ends? Do you think they continue to behave similarly or that it is impacting them, maybe not daily, but the second life some gatherings and so on? 

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:           

You said it. It is about making an impact. You and me; we don’t behave the same when we are with other clients or if we are with our family, at the beach or in some very relaxed place. Etiquette is more being able to know how to adapt, when, where and what to do with who. So, this is a good thing that we are providing them with. So, of course, they won’t change everything about their lifestyle, but we give them the tools to know how to adapt in situations and to be confident. To give you a concrete example, I do have people texting me afterward saying, “I am going to this gala. Is this dress stable? There are so many photo nights that I forgot what you said.” This happens quite frequently, yes. So yes, even if they take only 10% of what we said, somehow it gives them already awareness and the mission is done.      

MATTHIEU DAVID:                               

You say that you adapt it by the fact that you partner more with luxury brands. If I understand, in China and support by those luxury brands would need more deepness and support to interact and engage with their clients. I understood that, but what in terms of the content? Have you changed the content for China? That’s the first question and the second question is interacting with them in the manner of how to interact, to teach etiquette in China and so on, we don’t have the same understanding of what etiquette is. I remember my grandmother was telling me, “We don’t cut salad” right and nobody told them that before in China. So, how did you adapt in terms of content and the way of sending this during the sessions you are holding with luxury brands? 

Also, what are the differences between your students from a Western background who want to learn etiquette and your students from a Chinese background who want to learn etiquette?

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:           

Okay so about content and the way to deliver it. First content, people are indeed not interested in the same things, but I will take it differently. For all of you watching us, being abroad and being willing to enter China. You are probably interested in learning manners in China, some Chinese manners, some Chinese etiquette and some Chinese ways of doing business. Probably we do have sometimes inquiries like this, and we do have the training to help people in learning manners in China, Chinese manners. We have already been completing this training several times. If you want this training, you will be interested to know what, where, how, but you won’t have an interest to know that it comes from that king that used to be 2000 years ago… no. It is not your culture. It is something that is already too far for you. You want things that are practical and ready to use right now. If we reverse it, it is Chinese and it is exactly the same. They are willing to learn manners in China that are easily useful. Is it applicable, but to point out that it comes from that century because that emperor said that to that countess? This is a lesser concern. It would interest people who already have let’s say some cultural knowledge (find out why culture is essential to China market research). 

Here we come to also what western people are interested in and they are more interested in the history part and understanding why and to go into these tiny details. On the way to teach actually, what you just said is very French. I will say very western. You told me about your grandmother and every time I do have some western people, I can be sure they will be willing to show me that they know something. They will quote me one of the famous people or another family to show that they do have some knowledge. So, when I do have training at least even some western people in training, I know I won’t have to teach them China. I will have to let them show that they have some knowledge and once we do that, on top of that we let them show knowledge. We are good at that. Chinese is different. Chinese are extremely respectful of the teachers. We don’t ask many questions. The animation is completely different while with let’s say the western population will tend to use the crowd as an ammunition tool for the debate and will basically just give directions. With the Chinese, it can be sometimes often a one-man show. You have to be entertaining; you have to be reactive and make them feel well. So, some roles have good and bad points in both sides. Western parts, we may ask you some tricky questions, they may challenge you, but somehow, they help to builds up the training, they help to build up events. Chinese people won’t. So, they won’t give you trouble, but it’s on you to make their animation. Yeah those are the big differences. 

To finish on your question in terms of training, we have drastically changed the content because of that. As people don’t understand, it is not the same content. For instance, here the class of photo posing or how to pose elegantly, how to look slimmer and younger is extremely popular and it is maybe something I should try in the future in the west. Maybe it will work. 

MATTHIEU DAVID:                               

I believe there are a few technological trends as well. I mean, the iPhone is 2008 and you started a business in 2014 or 13. So, I believe before 2008 and after, there are some changes as well. That actually leads to one of the questions I have. How do you embed technology? So, recently because of the lockdown and we are shooting today is the end of April, 2020. So, the world is impacted by the pandemic, not China anymore, but other places and you should have shot a class online or you did something online; I don’t know if it was live or if you were shooting and sending to your current students or clients.

How do you incorporate technology and modernity into something that is supposed to show deep heritage? and I believe that’s a challenge that is faced by every luxury brand.

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:           

Once again etiquette is something that evolves. We don’t behave the same today as we did 500 years ago. So, the purpose is not to give them tradition and to tell them something that will be eternal. No behaviour is eternal, but how to live further with more confidence, more elegance in today’s world. So, of course, we have to welcome every single technological innovation and to see how can we incorporate it in our world. So, it will do. We do have an online process running for kids. It is twice a week that kids have to be online, on an application. We do use actually the same that parents are using at school. So, teachers can give some homework to their application and parents can check it. So, we have been using the same and parents are finding it very convenient. So, this is something ongoing, a paid offer, of course. Also, every week we do have some live streaming. So, this is more like a show. So, it is animation. I will try some dining manners, some compliments and some events. People are getting online to watch it.   

MATTHIEU DAVID:                               

How do you do the livestreaming? what platform you use what audience do you target, and how do you scale up in China? I understand that livestreaming is opened as advertisement, or is it paid as well? 

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:     

You need to be clever; you need to be fluent in Chinese, I think to make it very often, not to say it every day and several hours every day. It is a fulltime job and you need to be dedicated to that. Our core business is the training. We use it in all the promotion tools, but things are getting more popular. We do have some now asking us to do streaming for them and also to teach their team how to do streaming. You know, retail is suffering a lot with the current situation and so, brands are looking for a way to introduce their products by streaming. We have been asked if we will do some training for them, in terms of like the technical part of that and also the way to animate it; what kind of pose, what kind of gesture, what kind of way of talking do you do? These are all questions we address and for a while now. On the platform it is extremely reachable. The platform from Weibo is the one we have been using so far. We may probably soon open it on Adobe and actually on Thursday at 17:30 in the afternoon China time we are going to do a livestream and for the first time it will also be on Instagram. 

MATTHIEU DAVID: 

Could you tell us more about how you prepare and how you articulate the live streaming with three different phones? Is it three different platforms at the same time, is it different angles?

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:     

So, it is very simple. You need one phone, per account. For instance with us, if we have three platforms, we will have three phones. We have several partners how wanted to join and also record it on their platforms, but we had also their phones. So today is 30 April of this year and I would have at least 2 phones. 

MATTHIEU DAVID:                               

When I look at your marketing, you are pretty strong on some platforms. So, I understand that you are livestreaming and so you use your Weibo to live stream.

Zhihu , WeChat, and Instagramyou’ve been using it as long. Can you explain more to us about your Chinese marketing?  ?  

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:           

You are correct. Indeed, most of our activity is to produce content on social media. So, the main one being first is WeChat, still and a lot of things have been said on WeChat but…

the core clients for Zhihu are different to WeChat. So, we have 11 000 followers on WeChat, but they represent people strongly interested in etiquette training in China and willing to purchase their luxury goods. So, WeChat is first and then I have two other ones which are also pretty big.

On Weibo we have around 20 000. So,.  

MATTHIEU DAVID:                               

What we found out in research and what we understand where you are pretty strong – maybe we are wrong and please let us know – it is Zhihu and Zhihu for people listening to us is a Q&A platform and in my understanding it makes a lot of sense because people have a lot of questions about etiquette training in China.

I have to go to a gala, as you said. What mistakes should I avoid, instead of what should I wear. If I am at a dinner what fork do I begin to eat with and which fork do I end with? Can you explain more to us about your Chinese marketing and more specifically about Zhihu

 I think it’s a platform a bit overlooked by marketers and people don’t realize the potential and myself, I think that it’s a tricky platform.

Do you answer the questions or do you write your own questions and then answer back? I think it’s a very common practice. That’s one question I have and then, Quora and Zhihu are similar in path, in terms of a bit of comments that are not relevant sometimes. How do you cooperate with that? Do you reply back? Is it something you engage, you have a plan to manage those? 

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:           

Zhihu indeed we have got quite a lot of followers (45,000), and maybe only spending a quarter of the time that we spent on WeChat for that. It is very effective. As you said it is a platform that is matching our business core. We are a knowledge company, sharing knowledge. Zhihu is a platform about knowledge and getting more knowledge. So, yes, we have been answering several questions regarding our domain and learning manners in China and how to look confident about public speaking as well.

The population going on Zhihu is also clearly matching our target. It is people who have graduated from university, people living in major cities and having some executive jobs.

So, indeed I know some companies who have had this strategy to have several accounts to post questions to other accounts, to follow questions to make it trendier. Being very honest with you, it is not something we did. Not because we don’t believe in it, but because our energy was focused on other media, especially WeChat and also because we didn’t have the need, simply. 

MATTHIEU DAVID:                 

The questions were there, right? 

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:           

The questions were there already and there were not so many people answering on our domain. So, we had in some way a blue ocean in front of us. We didn’t need to do that, but now if I am correct, we answer two questions a week, while in fact, we started Zhihu end of 2016, but we may have answered ten questions per week. So, at the beginning we were filling them with answers. These answers continue to feed our account. Plus, we produce marketing articles on WeChat that we will post on Zhihu, plus when we have events, we have photos and we send them on Zhihu. It’s the same with our videos. We produce videos twice a week, which are broadcasted or posted on WeChat, on Zhihu, on Weibo, Instagram and also on Facebook. So, we do create a lot of content that we place all over the platforms (learn how B2B businesses can leverage Chinese social media). 

MATTHIEU DAVID:                               

One thing I strongly believe is that the content you create, you can actually publish on different accounts even though you have to adapt it a bit because different platforms have different ways of interacting with content, but when you say you publish on Zhihu, it means you publish on your identity or you publish it by answering specific questions? So, you use a video to answer specific questions, or do you publish on your feed? 

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:           

You can do both. So, for people who are watching us and don’t know about Zhihu, on Zhihu you look for questions that have been asked and followed by people, meaning that there could be 10 000, 20 000 or millions sometimes of people following one question and they will be notified as soon as one answer is answered and there could be several answers. People can answer the same question and they will get notified for that. So, when you do answer it, you can answer with text, links to articles as well, photos or videos. This is something we do. We choose the question to answer and we also have, as you said, a feed on which we post our articles and videos. We have one account for myself as an individual and we also have one account, a company account called the Zhihu column. So, this one is not a personal one, but a company one and people are more interested in the personal one, of course.  

MATTHIEU DAVID:                               

How does Zhihu and Baidu interact with you? Zhihu is ranked by Baidu, not as well by other platforms owned by Baidu, but still, it is. Do you get traffic for people who are going to Zhihu for a specific question or do you get visibility from people coming from Baidu and other sources and then ending up on Zhihu?

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:           

I have to talk a bit on Baidu. I cannot give you definite answers for a simple reason is that we started by the promotions, really on the professional level last year only, to invest money in the Baidu research and keywords. So, we have been pushing it, but the crisis happened too early for us to have some definitive answers on the effectiveness of the Baidu promotion. So far, the trend we got was that Baidu is too wide and it’s too general for our topics. As you said, we are a niche. Our target clients are very specific and there is a very small amount of people that can afford it and can be interested. So, we were still thinking about how to continue with that or how to adjust it. 

MATTHIEU DAVID:                               

You are in an interesting position because you are both in B2B and B2C and Baidu is missed by B2B businesses and actually Baidu is very good for B2B. And for B2C, Chinese go as we know, more to T-Mall, Tao Bao or JD directly and skip the Baidu process, not like in the west where a lot of people would go through Google and then end up at Amazon or other platforms. So, it is interesting to have your feedback. On Zhihu I’d like to add one more thing.

Do you answer about 300 questions to reach this 30 000/40 000 followers?        

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:           

It will be interesting to know how many questions we answered over the last 4 or 5 years, but I will not be surprised if it comes to 300, yes. 

MATTHIEU DAVID:                  

300/400 even, right?    

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:       

Probably. 

MATTHIEU DAVID:                               

I’d like to open up the discussion on something a bit wider and the French perception of Chinese etiquette. I always struggle with – talking about France with Chinese people – because in my education, in a lot of the education of French people, France is linked to the great French Revolution. It is linked to the republic and what Chinese people think of France is about Versailles and the kings of France and the reason why we have luxury brands is because we had kings, which actually make it feel better in the British history.

On perceptions of France in China do you have the same perception that there is a bit of schizophrenia identity for the French?

When they go overseas they are seen as the embodiment of kings and then when they are back to their country, it is about the republic and the great French Revolution. 

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:           

Well, this sensibility about revolution, about republic is something that honestly goes a bit beyond their… some people do have, but honestly, I don’t feel it well. Indeed, we have to be very let’s say very honest and the British actually it’s a strong tool and is very useful for them, but we do have a very strong image on luxury and elegance. Beyond that I will say like even more efficient tool that many of the things you could have thought. I am very impressed by the amount of our clients who have been watching and also been following other videos. French-wise Coco Chanel is still a good figure. So, France is elegant and France is romantic, still. France remains romantic and many of the French are romantic (read about the Chinese’ perception of French cities).     

MATTHIEU DAVID:                               

And when talking to many Chinese around the world, their perception of luxury as an identity of France is linked to the kings. Do you have the same understanding that Chinese clients of luxury want to have a reason, want to understand the rationale behind the price, behind the luxury and behind how accepted it is and in order to find the rationale, they have to link it to the kings.

Do you have the same interpretation or your understanding is different? 

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:           

There is a schizophrenia actually, in the fact that China no longer has any liberty press, but they still do have a strong fascination for it. So, this is something I have noticed. You will be surprised by the amount of people who came to B2C etiquette training in China; kids hoping that one day their children could be a prince or a princess. They tell me, “Oh you know, I wanted my son to come to your class even if he is too young because he is the same age as Prince Charles of the United Kingdom and maybe one day they could meet.”       

MATTHIEU DAVID:                               

Maybe from the British monarchy, right? They are thinking also about other monarchies from Europe, from Africa, from the Middle East. What do they have in mind? 

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:           

Princes, princesses; it is something that makes them dream. Yes, in general it is something that is still a strong dream; the fact that you belong to a family that travels over the ages, but that has a legacy. It is something strong. China is a country where family tradition is important, that you are a piece of the chain and meaning that you bong to a chain that has accomplished prestigious things in the past. Indeed, it is a very powerful dream. We say that luxury is about dream, right? 

MATTHIEU DAVID:                 

True and you have a new class to start, right; how to get married to a prince or princess.        

I’m always ending the talk with a couple of questions in order to understand what you can share with people about China as an entrepreneur, especially about books.

So, what books inspired you most in your entrepreneurial journey, so not specifically for China, but as an entrepreneur?

 I think you are a member of some entrepreneurial organisation. I don’t know if it is French Chamber, but those kinds of entrepreneurs usually have books in their mind.   

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:           

Yes. So indeed, I am a member of the French Chamber of Commerce and I am also a member of Entrepreneurial Organisation (EO) and without a single doubt, I will answer that the book that struck me the most was Scaling Up by Verne Harnish. So, the book reference of EO. Every page delivers more knowledge than most authors in this market. Every page is a game changer, in terms of running business. This is the kind of book that you can read ten, twenty, thirty times and you will still get things from it and you will consider that, “Oh, there is still a lot I need to do in my business.”          

MATTHIEU DAVID:                               

This book is organised through cash management, people management in a very, very practical way where you can apply any debrief and so on. I think I am going to believe that EO is a code because there is so much similarity between this; the way people talk about Scaling Up, I am going to invest in the code.

What do you read to stay up to date about China?         

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:           

That’s such a good question. On WeChat there is probably a lot of information: what your clients are thinking, what are they doing? It is in the feed a lot and other platforms like Weibo, LinkedIn and how is it of course, on the western social media. They have a different angle or view. This is my major source of information, I think. 

MATTHIEU DAVID:                               

How do you process the feeds of the people from WeChat? I do that sometimes and sometimes I am struggling with myself and say, “Am I wasting my time here or am I learning something?” Sometimes I feel actually I am learning things: how people behave, what people want to show off and what people want to share. But that is when you are a bit analytical, when you are stepping back to analyze. What’s your feeling about it?

I am sure you have a thinking about what to do with this information.   

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:           

Yeah, when we look at WeChat Moments with business promotions, with people sharing their last items, showing the video of their dogs, but all of this information, so, if someone shares about his/her dog or pet for kids, if it is where his/her attention goes, this is already information. Who is this person? Is it somebody that works or not? So, it gives a frame on the interests they have at the moment. When there was a lockdown in Shanghai, of course you can be sure that everyone was knowing about it and right now it is pretty interesting to see what are their expectations, what are their interests (see how Daxue Consulting can help you with tailored consumer research).      

MATTHIEU DAVID:                               

On China this time, what book would you recommend, if any or maybe another source?

It could be a book, a movie or something you think really is useful to understand China.  

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:           

There is one I was reading before coming to China that struck me. It is called – it’s in French – so the thirty growth spheres of China written by a journalist. She was pretty well informed about several big topics that had happened and the book was really, really mind-blowing. So, what happened in the 80’s, 90’s, 2000, 2010. She wants to make us feel the evolution of the concern of Chinese, their fear, their dreams, what they were aiming for and I would have been very interested to discuss further with this journalist. 

MATTHIEU DAVID:                               

Yeah, her name is Caroline and indeed, she was in Beijing for a long time. 

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:       

Do you know her? 

MATTHIEU DAVID:                               

Yeah, I used to live in Beijing so I met with her one time. I would say that I’m very happy you mentioned this book because I would have said the same thing if someone asked me this question and so you are the first one to say that and also because it was stated in English.

If you had extra time, what business would you pursue, maybe?  

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:           

If I would do another business with extra time. There are so many things I’d like to do. One of the extensions of this business I would like to do is silk. One of the business plans I would like someday is to go to Europe and the same way I brought a piece of Europe, France to China, I would like to bring a piece of China to Europe. I do believe one of the things I have enjoyed the most in this company is to build a dream, emotions and to sell it. I like to believe that I have been welcoming all of these people, all these beautiful ladies in our elegant, beautiful and sophisticated world and I will love one day to be able to pose maybe the French ladies, the European ladies to come to another beautiful and sophisticated Chinese-influenced world. So, this is something that is weighing on my mind and that I am preparing for in maybe a couple of years.   

MATTHIEU DAVID:                               

Interesting. Last two questions and I am very interested in having your answer on this, since you have been in China for 7 years.

What kind of success and failure have you witnessed in China, which could be a company, a behaviour of people which surprised you?

The example I always mention is the failure of Carrefour, which is surprising in some way because when I arrived it was a winner. As a success, you don’t expect that people would use QR codes everywhere. I mean that is coming from WeChat, but the story of the QR code is very surprising to me. What would be your take on this? 

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:           

I am very amazed by how fast the digital landscape is changing. WeChat was starting when I came. I mean, marketing-wise in terms of articles and Weibo was already declining. Everyone said Weibo is going to be dead. Then it was WeChat. Everyone had to go on WeChat. The year after it was Toutiao. So, you had to be on Toutiao and it didn’t work. So, for those watching or don’t know, Toutiao was a news platform with a different kind of business model. So, they will analyse what you are interested in and they will push the news that you tend to watch. Let’s say you are a huge football fan. You only check out articles about football. You are going to have on your feed only football associated article and so on. So, this one disappeared as fast as it came. So, we could talk also about Xiaohongshu. So, the Little Red Book or Red in English. The same in 2018 I think it was, it was all about red. You had to be in red. We were strongly pushed to go red. It was declared not bankrupt, but pretty much almost dead last year.  

MATTHIEU DAVID:                  

Yeah banned from the app stores or something. 

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:           

Yes, from the app stores and also from Chinese providers as well. So, this is what amazed me the most. What to date is working on social media is definitely not going to work even in 6 months. For us doing marketing here. I mean marketing is our key client acquisition channel and it is very hard to stay on page. We discuss also with some friends in marketing agencies. They are also working to remain updated and so I can imagine how hard it can be for people abroad to stay updated, but we are also struggling here.  

MATTHIEU DAVID:                               

What about a failure or something that was unsuccessful in China and that shows for you as embodying something that is happening?     

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:           

I am thinking – this is linked to my industry – strongly on the private clubs. When I started in the first years, I was very often contacted by private clubs on the model that can exist in the English-speaking countries. Especially in America and England. If you are from a certain background you have to be a member of the club and this is where you are going to meet people to do business. So, every nationality comes to China to try to duplicate what has been working in its own country. 

Americans have been coming with, amongst other things of course, but with this concept of private clubs. I don’t see it working at all. So far, all the private clubs I have seen are complete failures. There are no members, they are struggling to find animations and even those I have seen with some very smart and very dedicated, very creative managers and teams, even then they fail where I think they could have been extremely successful in another country. So, for me, they are an example of the private club, obviously either it is too early, maybe or maybe not, or it doesn’t fit the Chinese market.    

MATTHIEU DAVID:                               

It’s very interesting. I had the same feeling back in Beijing. I lived for four years in Beijing and you saw a lot of those private clubs or you don’t really know their identity or what they wanted to do, but indeed, I am not seeing a momentum there. It is a very interesting topic. Thanks so much for being with us. It was very instructive and very interesting talk. I would have a lot of other questions, but it is close to or even more than one hour. So, we have to stop. I hope you enjoy, and I hope everyone enjoyed.        

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:           

I did, thank you for having me. It was a great pleasure. I hope that the people watching have learnt something and if you have any questions about anything of course, I will be happy to answer you.  

MATTHIEU DAVID:                  

How? LinkedIn, email, website? 

GUILLAUME RUÉ DE BERNADAC:           

Definitely so people can find me on LinkedIn on my name. I think it will be on the video and you can write it somewhere and you can find me that way on LinkedIn. So, info@bernadac.com so I can send you the information. I am very happy to be in touch with all of you. 

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