As an outcome of the economic crisis, the global manufacturing sector is collapsing. Focusing on Chinese manufacturing small and medium enterprises (SMEs), this study investigates whether marketing innovation, defined as improvements in the marketing mix, can assist in withstanding the challenges of operating under the current economic conditions. A conceptual model linking market orientation, marketing innovation, competitive advantage and firm survival is tested using structural equation modelling. Three key findings are derived. First, the examined Chinese manufacturing SMEs had a greater perceived likelihood of survival had they developed and sustained a competitive advantage. Second, marketing innovation assisted in developing and sustaining competitive advantages based on differentiation and cost leadership strategies. Third, marketing innovation capabilities improved when the examined manufacturing SMEs were competitor oriented and had good inter-functional capabilities.