Marketing Challenges in China (Part 1)
The internet and media are bursting with the news that China is the first-choice country for global expansion due to its enormous population and increasing consumption rates. And we can’t argue with that, because numbers don’t lie.
But everybody knows that when entering a new market, companies face a lot of challenges, but those challenges double when it comes to entering China. Why? All the search engines and social platforms you know so well are unavailable or unused in China, and the problems don’t stop there. Here are some issues that might discourage you from entering the Chinese market, but don’t give up, because if other companies have gone through it, you can too!
Let’s assume you are brave enough to initiate a marketing expansion into China on your own. What’s the first challenge you would face? The answer is obviously the Chinese language. If you are not proficient in Chinese and have no understanding of Chinese interface, the language barrier may make you want to give up immediately. Whether you set up a paid campaign or a social media account and need to analyze the promotion results, you cannot avoid interaction with the Chinese language.
Let’s take a look at Wechat Analytics within the Wechat Official Account platform, for instance. This provides you with very detailed analytics regarding followers, articles, menu clicks, interface, and messages. The below Follower Analytics shows how many new followers we received this month. Also provided is information on the total number of followers, people who “unfollowed” your account, net followers increase, and also gives characteristics of users from geographic and sex perspective. The interface is quite intuitive but definitely a challenge if you don’t speak the language.
When doing search engine marketing in China, Baidu Tongji (百度统计) should be your right-hand man, as this platform provides the most accurate analytical tool. However, as seen on the screenshot below, there is no sign of English on the site. This graph shows the unique visitors (UV) numbers during the past week, and the site also allows you to view the number of page views (PV) as well as IP numbers, bounce rates, and average time of sessions. The right section displays the cost and proportion information regarding top ten keywords, and at the top of the page, the general information for this particular day. And this is just the first section of the Baidu Tongji Report.
As you can see, Chinese search engines as well as social media platforms, provide very useful analytical tools and statistical reports but what’s the use of it if you can’t understand what’s what? It isn’t impossible to navigate on these platforms without knowing the language, but online translations may not be 100% accurate does and can mislead you in your conclusions.
Localization is a challenge which many companies would rather ignore, but there are many global brands including Airbnb, Best Buy, and Uber that have learned the significance of localization in China.
Online marketing is especially sensitive to localized content. Due to huge streams of information, the Chinese audience is very picky. What advertising content may appeal most to a Chinese audience? A survey conducted by Kantar on Chinese consumers shows that the top 7 advertisements categories can be subdivided into three groups:
- Creative content. This category refers to funny and humorous or visually appealing content.
- Relevant content. This category emphasizes the importance of thoughtful targeting. If you create a post concerning celebrities in China that target local youngsters, you should forget Justin Bieber and instead focus on Lu Han, who is a massive superstar within the country.
- Rewarding content. Not on the top, but still who doesn’t like to get free stuff? In China loyal customers often get certain small “hongbao” (red envelopes) or coupons, which they can use to get a discount for future purchases. This is a smart move since it incentives additional purchases.
However, this classification is extremely broad. When targeting your audience in China, try to experiment with several interest groups and different kinds of content. This way, you can gain more insight into what content suits which customers.
When entering the Chinese market, “patience is a virtue” should become your motto, as you will discover the Chinese market cannot be conquered overnight. Building your presence in China requires quite some time and often is impossible without the help of local Chinese agencies. While you can set up an Instagram account or a Facebook company page in a mere day to kick off your online promotion, here is what it takes to set up a presence on these Chinese platforms:
- Baidu Tuiguang. It is a platform for setting up a paid advertisement campaign, and it takes on average between two to four weeks to get your account approved by the Baidu management team. Prior to application you need to prepare a set of documents, including your company’s registration certificate, bank statement, company’s webpage screenshot, and a letter of authorization.
- WeChat. Platform with the highest number of users will be on the top of your list if you start the advertising on social media. For overseas companies there are three ways to set up a WeChat Official Account: a) with an overseas identity b) through a local Chinese branch c) via a the third party. The third option is most commonly used by overseas companies that do not have a legal entity in China, and on average it takes one to two weeks to get your WeChat running.
- Weibo. As a blogging platform, it provides plenty of marketing opportunities and is the easiest option for overseas companies because it does not require a verification. Without verification, a business account can be set up within a day. However, Weibo strongly recommends verification as it will build a trust towards your brand, and the process can take up to two months. But there is some good news: you can set up and get your account running while you apply for verification.
Want to learn some more challenging aspects of Chinese marketing? Check out the second part of the article!