Purpose – This paper aims to explore two fundamental aspects of branding in emerging markets. First, are there significant differences in product evaluation behaviour between regions within a large emerging market such as China? Second, how important is branding relative to other product cues in the product evaluation among consumers in emerging markets? Design/methodology/approach – Data were collected from a sample of respondents in three Chinese cities (Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Chongqing). Respondents were asked to evaluate combinations of a hypothetical product (domestic air conditioning) varying in brands, prices and country of origin (COO). ANOVA, t-tests and regression were conducted to test for significant differences in ratings brand, price and COO, perceived product quality and purchase intention. Findings – The results show significant differences between the three regions in product evaluation processes and outcomes. In addition, the study identifies a general preference across regions for global brands over local brand competitors. Research limitations/implications – While the findings may be due to the particular Chinese locations and/or the product chosen, nevertheless, the differences identified in the product evaluation processes and outcomes point to the importance of considering the potential differences between regions in diverse emerging countries like China. In addition, the general preference for international brands suggests important implications for foreign and local manufacturers. Practical implications – Managers will develop an improved awareness of the importance of brands in emerging markets and of the regional differences in diverse markets such as China. Originality/value – By focussing on regional differences within diverse emerging markets (rather than treating such markets as homogeneous), this study extends understanding of the complexities facing international and domestic marketers.