China’s economic surge is one of the biggest stories of the 21st century.
Hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty, and China’s swelling middle class has attracted the interest of Western companies.
As many American companies have discovered, doing business in China is far from straightforward. Recent history is littered with examples of companies that entered the Chinese market to great fanfare, only to retreat a few years later.
Calling Off The Offensive
Today’s infographic highlights 11 companies that ended up tapping the brakes on their ambitious forays on the other side of the Pacific.
Then, we take a look at the factors that influenced these strategic withdrawals.
Here are some high profile examples of corporate u-turns by American companies operating in the Chinese market:
When Google China’s search engine was launched in 2006, the company had made the controversial decision to censor search results within the country. Google publicly displayed a disclaimer indicating that some results were removed, which created tensions with the Chinese government.
For a while, things seemed to be going well. Even though a domestic company, Baidu, had captured the majority of the Chinese search market, Google did have a respectable market share of about 30%.
Google China’s fortune took a turn for the worse in 2010 after a major hack – Operation Aurora – exposed user data as well as intellectual property. The hack, which originated from within China, was the last straw for Google’s executive team. After one last ditch effort to provide unfiltered search results within China, the company retreated beyond the firewall.
Amazon was an early entrant into the Chinese market. In 2004, the company acquired Joyo – an online shopping site – which was eventually rebranded to Amazon China in 2011.
Amazon China achieved some early success hitting a market share of around 15%, but today, that market share has eroded to less than 1%. Facing nearly insurmountable competition from domestic e-commerce platforms like JD and Taobao, the company recently announced it would be exiting the Chinese market.
After arriving fashionably late for the ride-hailing party in 2014, it quickly became clear that Uber was facing an uphill battle against well-funded domestic rivals. After only two years, Uber elected to u-turn out of the Chinese market.
Though Uber’s tactical exit from China is often viewed as a failure, the company has earned upwards of $8B through its sale to competitor Didi Chuxing.
A Two-Way Street
Now that red-hot growth at home is beginning to taper off, a number of Chinese companies have begun their push into other markets around the world. Much like their American counterparts, brands pushing beyond China’s borders are seeing varied success in their expansion efforts.
One high-profile example is Huawei. The telecommunications giant has been making inroads in countries around the world – particularly in emerging markets – but has seen pushback and scrutiny in a number of developed economies. Huawei has become a lightning rod for growing concerns over government surveillance and China’s growing influence over the global communications network.
Already, Australia has blocked the company from participating in its 5G network, and in the United States, government agencies are banned from buying Huawei gear.
If negative sentiment continues to build, it remains to be seen whether Huawei and other Chinese companies will follow the playbook of American brands in China, and turn the car around.
Saying Bye to Facebook: Why Companies Change Their Name
Facebook’s impending rebrand will impact the company’s future. Why do companies change their name, and what can we learn from past examples?
As anyone who’s started a company knows, choosing a name is no easy task.
There are many considerations, such as:
- Are the social handles and domain name available?
- Is there a competitor already using a similar name?
- Can people spell, pronounce, and remember the name?
- Are there cultural or symbolic interpretations that could be problematic?
The list goes on. These considerations are amplified when a company is already established, and even more difficult when your company serves billions of users around the globe.
Facebook (the parent company, not the social network) has changed its name to Meta, and we’ll examine some probable reasons for the rebrand. But first we’ll look at historical corporate name changes in recent history, exploring the various motivations behind why a company might change its name. Below are some of the categories of rebranding that stand out the most.
Societal perceptions can change fast, and companies do their best to anticipate these changes in advance. Or, if they don’t change in time, their hands might get forced.
As time goes on, companies with more overt negative externalities have come under pressure—particularly in the era of ESG investing. Social pressure was behind the name changes at Total and Philip Morris. In the case of the former, the switch to TotalEnergies was meant to signal the company’s shift beyond oil and gas to include renewable energy.
In some cases, the reason why companies change their name is more subtle. GMAC (General Motors Acceptance Corporation) didn’t want to be associated with subprime lending and the subsequent multi-billion dollar bailout from the U.S. government, and a name change was one way of starting with a “clean slate”. The financial services company rebranded to Ally in 2010.
Hitting the Reset Button
Brands can become unpopular over time because of scandals, a decline in quality, or countless other reasons. When this happens, a name change can be a way of getting customers to shed those old, negative connotations.
Internet and TV providers rank dead last in customer satisfaction ratings, so it’s no surprise that many have changed their names in recent years.
We Do More
This is a very common scenario, particularly as companies go through a rapid expansion or find success with new product offerings. After a period of sustained growth and change, a company may find that the current name is too limiting or no longer accurately reflects what the company has become.
Both Apple and Starbucks have simplified their company names over the years. The former dropped “Computers” from its name in 2007, and Starbucks dropped “Coffee” from its name in 2011. In both these cases, the name change meant disassociating the company with what initially made them successful, but in both cases it was a gamble that paid off.
One of the biggest name changes in recent years is the switch from Google to Alphabet. This name change signaled the company’s desire to expand beyond internet search and advertising.
The Start-Up Name Pivot
Another very common name change scenario is the early-stage name change.
In the world of music, there’s speculation that limited melodies and subconscious plagiarism will make creating new music increasingly difficult in the future. Similarly, there are millions of companies in the world and only so many short and snappy names. (That’s how we end up with companies called Quibi.)
Many of the popular digital services we use today started with very different names. The Google we know today was once called Backrub. Instagram began life as Bourbn, and Twitter began life as “Twittr” before finding a spare E in the scrabble pile.
As mentioned above, many companies start out as speculative experiments or passion projects, when a viable, well-vetted name isn’t high on the priority list. As a result, new companies can run into problems with copyright.
This was the case when Picaboo, the precursor of Snapchat, was forced to change their name in 2011. The existing Picaboo—a photobook company—was not thrilled to share a name with an app that was primarily associated with sexting at the time.
The fight over the name WWF was a more unique scenario. In 1994, the World Wildlife Fund and the World Wrestling Federation had a mutual agreement that the latter would stop using the initials internationally, except for fleeting uses such as “WWF champion”. In the end though, the agreement was largely ignored, and the issue became a sticking point when the wrestling company registered wwf.com. Eventually, the company rebranded as WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) after losing a lawsuit.
To err is human, and rebranding exercises don’t always hit the mark. When a name change is universally panned or, perhaps worse, not relevant, it’s time to course correct.
Tribune Publishing was forced to backtrack after their name change to Tronc in 2016. The widely-panned name, which was stylized in all lower case, was seen as a clumsy attempt to become a digital-first publisher.
Why Is Facebook Changing Its Name?
Facebook undertook this name change for a number of reasons, but chief among them is that the brand is irrevocably associated with scandals, negative externalities, and Mark Zuckerberg.
Even before the most recent outage and whistle-blowing scandal, Facebook was already the least-trusted tech company by a long shot. Mark Zuckerberg was once the most admired CEO in Silicon Valley, but has since fallen from grace.
It’s easy to focus on the negative triggers for the impending name change, but there is some substance behind the change as well. For one, Facebook recognizes that privacy issues have put their primary source of revenue at risk. The company’s ad-driven model built upon its users’ data is coming under increasing scrutiny with each passing year.
As well, there is substance behind the metaverse hype. Facebook first signaled their ambitions in 2014, when it acquired the virtual reality headset maker Oculus. A sizable portion of the company’s workforce is already working on making the metaverse concept a reality, and there are plans to hire 10,000 more people in Europe over the next five years.
It remains to be seen whether this immense gamble pays off, but for the near future, Zuckerberg and Facebook’s investors will be keeping a close eye on how the media and public react to the new Meta name and how the transition plays out. After all, there are billions of dollars at stake.
Visualizing Social Risk in the World’s Top Investment Hubs
In a third of the world’s top investment hubs, citizens face significant threats to their civil, political, and labor rights.
Visualizing the Social Risk of the World’s Top Investment Hubs
As social responsibility becomes an important aspect of doing business, it’s more crucial than ever for decision-makers to understand the risks associated with various global markets.
This graphic, using data from a report by Verisk Maplecroft, looks at the world’s top cities for foreign direct investment (FDI) and assesses their relative levels of social risk.
In the article below, we’ll take a look at the research methodology to explain how risk was assessed in the report and touch on some key markets that placed high on the ranking.
The Relationship Between FDI and Social Risk
To look at the relationship between FDI and social risk, the report identified the top 100 cities for FDI in 2020, using data from fDi Markets (the Financial Times’ foreign investment monitor).
From there, social risk in the top 100 FDI cities was measured using data from Verisk Maplecroft’s [email protected] Social Index. The index measures the social risk landscape of 575 different cities across the globe, using three key pillars:
- Civil and political rights: the right to protest, security force abuses
- Labor rights: child labor, modern slavery
- Poverty: portion of population in extreme poverty
After calculating scores based on these three metrics, cities were then grouped into four categories to measure their level of social risk:
- Low risk
- Medium risk
- High risk
- Extreme risk
Based on this analysis, citizens in 33 of the top 100 cities for FDI (representing $71 billion of inward investment) are at ‘high’ or ‘extreme’ levels of social risk, meaning they face significant threats to their civil, political, and labor rights.
Of the top 100 places, Istanbul and Izmir rank the highest when it comes to overall human rights risks, largely because of labor rights violations and the exploitation of migrant and refugee workers. This is something manufacturers should take note of, especially those who outsource production to these Turkish cities.
In contrast, Beijing, which places third on the list, scores high due to China’s various civil rights issues. Other major manufacturing and commercial hubs in China, like Guangzhou and Shanghai, place high on the list as well.
Overall Social Risk Index
While a third of the top FDI cities are at high or extreme social risk, this figure is even higher when looking at all 575 cities included in the [email protected] Social Index.
Of the 575 cities, 75% are classified as ‘high’ or ‘extreme’ risk. Mogadishu, Somalia is the highest risk city, followed by Damascus, Aleppo, and Homs in Syria, Pyongyang in North Korea, and Sanaa in Yemen.
While the high-risk cities are spread across the globe, it’s worth noting that 240 of the high and extreme risk cities are located in Asia.
Civil and Political Risk Index
In addition to the overall ranking, the report provides insight into specific human rights violations, highlighting which cities are most at risk.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Pyongyang, North Korea places first on the list when it comes to civil and political rights violations. Under the current North Korean regime, some significant civil rights violations include arbitrary arrests and detentions, the holding of political prisoners and detainees, and a lack of judicial independence.
In addition to North Korea, Syria places high on the civil rights risk index as well, with three of the top five cities located in the war-torn country.
Labor Rights Index
When focusing specifically on labor rights, almost half of the ‘high’ or ‘extreme’ risk cities are in Europe and Central Asia.
The biggest problems across a majority of ‘high’ risk cities include child labor, the exploitation of migrant workers, and modern slavery. Pakistan in particular struggles with child labor issues, with an estimated 3.3 million children in situations of forced labor.
What This Means for Foreign Investors
Understanding a country’s social landscape can help organizations make decisions on where to conduct business, especially those that prioritize ESG efforts.
And, while organizations who invest in ‘high’ risk locations aren’t directly involved in any human rights violations, being associated with a ‘high’ risk city could impact a corporation’s reputation, or cause financial damage down the line.
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