18 Strategies for the Chinese Market

This is one of the hot business topics of our time as the China Market becomes (in many sectors) the most lucrative of it’s kind in the world. With over 350 million middle class consumers, GDP growth of 7% year on year & powerful online eco-system for marketing & sales China certainly offers the greatest potential for savvy business.

We are an international agency of 25 people based in Shanghai and one of China’s largest domestic agencies. We’ve worked on over 250 different projects collectively.

There is often a lot of conflicting advice when it comes to the China market, strategy always needs to be tailored on a case by case basis so always have that in-depth conversation with a number of different sources.

1. Digital Marketing is King

With over 850 million Chinese now connected online China boasts the largest online community in the world. On-top of this the web has developed in a unique set of conditions, it’s therefore been built for the ultra-consumerist society of modern China & is perfect for online marketing, sales & branding. All marketing campaigns are almost completely online now, simply because this offers the best exposure, reach, influence & Return On Investment.

2. Understanding Chinese Platforms

In the unique digital eco-system of modern China you have a host of Chinese platforms that developed to cater for the Chinese user in a very effective way. No Facebook, rather WeChat, No Twitter, Rather Weibo, No Google, Instead Baidu & forget Youtube, time to embrace Youku.

These platforms all have unique characteristics and are very effective for reaching their large, active and impressionable audiences.

3. The Chinese research extensively online

This is a unique feature of China, the scale of online research. The average user spends 2 hours browsing the web per day (source) The best strategy is to understand where users are searching for information and ensure you are highly visible and reputable in front of your target demographic. The discerning Chinese consumer will research a lot in a market place often associated with counterfeit products, fakery and lower quality local products.

4. International Brands & business have status

It is well known that the China market has issues with counterfeit products, fakery and lower quality domestic goods. One vital part of how you brand and market your project is to tap into the positive association Chinese have when it comes to ‘international’ products. This status helps a foreign brand stand out from local competitors in terms of quality and reputation.

5. Being highly visible on Chinese keywords

Chinese Keyword Searches are the bedrock of any digital marketing campaign, from branding to sales to lead generation. The best approach is to understand deeply the best set of keywords the Chinese are searching online on search engines such as Baidu, Sogu & 360. Appearing here will drive qualified traffic to your content that is already searching for relevant information, this improves sales conversion rates.

6. Create a quality Chinese website for a chinese market

Creating a quality site as your ‘shop front’ is essential. It won’t often cut it just to translate your existing site. This is because Chinese site formats are different and it is best to host on a Chinese server if possible.

It’s important to develop quality material for your site, optimize the site for the right set of Mandarin Characters & Keyword Searches as well tailoring your message to this specific target audience.

7. Content needs to be tailored and adapted for the Chinese market

Simply translating existing marketing material is often ineffective. There are so many nuanced and localized ways of expressing information, values and priorities are also different. It’s best to use a quality team of copywriters to re-adapt and contextualize content, this can even depend on what regions of China you are targeting.

We call this ‘localizing your business concept’.

8. Search engine ranking on Baidu (China's google)

Baidu is China’s Google & the largest search engine with over 75% of all online research conducted via this portal. It is incredibly powerful to rank highly in the search results. The most qualified traffic can be driven to your site by appearing on the first page and high up the results.

To achieve this you need to produce quality content on a frequent basis, be featured in external publications, have other sites backlink & reference you & work on achieving visibility on the best set of targeted Mandarin Chinese keywords.

9. Pay Per Click advertising on Baidu

Pay Per Click (PPC) is an effective solution in a market where the Chinese are less wary of ads, the online culture around paid advertising is a more receptive one. PPC is therefore a great strategy for market entry & a way to place your site link at the top of the paid results. On Baidu ad links listed according to relevancy, cost of keyword character price and bidding value.

It is important to ensure both lines of text are optimized, the link is closely managed and traffic/click through rates are monitored daily. Remember this is China so more traffic can be driven than in much of the rest of the world.

10. WeChat - a powerful platform

The whole world seems to have gone WeChat mad, and perhaps rightly so. This platform now boasts 877 million daily active users and is arguably one of the most intelligent & integrated platforms in the world.

Part of the ‘Tencent’ group WeChat is a bedrock for campaign communications, for building a following and pushing content to them & for providing another touchpoint for consumers & prospects.

The key advice with WeChat is set up an Official Service Account (either third party hosted or directly with a Chinese business licence) and use this to push content. WeChat is a powerful branding tool with a strong culture of following official accounts to remain informed, you therefore need to ensure your content is of the utmost quality.

Official accounts can be used to actively drive traffic to external links as well as WeChat stores.

11. WeChat stores - a great platform for sales

WeChat have even launched their own ‘micro commerce’ division of the platform. You can link a WeChat store to an Official WeChat account but must actively drive traffic here as it is a static store (not searchable via WeChat for example). WeChat Stores can host up to 20 SKU’s (product pages) and are highly customizable.

They are a great tool for sales as they connect with the trusted WeChat e-wallet system for ease of payment. There is also the benefit of ‘social commerce’ with users highly active and engaged on WeChat, more interactions equate to more exposure to your content driving traffic to an internal store.

12. Branding in China everything

The Chinese really do buy brands, not products. To understand this you need to realize the importance of ‘face’, that is how the Chinese display themselves to others. In a modern, ultra-consumerist society people now display this through the brands they buy & the lifestyle this connotes.

This is why ‘International Branding’ is so effective with a far greater cosmopolitan & international focus in the large urban areas of the east coast.

13. Consider Weibo (China's Twitter)

Launched by Sina in 2009 it is really a merge between Twitter and Facebook in terms of it’s functionality. With 143 of the fortune 500 companies now on Weibo this platform is hard to ignore the role Weibo plays in a comprehensive Chinese marketing strategy.

Weibo is very relevant platform for brands and businesses. The statistics speak for themselves with over 224,000 verified company users. The platform is an ‘open network’, this means users can see posts from anyone else, they do not have to be connected first.

The best advice for Weibo is to keep posts short (within 140 characters) and feature relevant external links. Like Twitter this is a Micro Blogging platform and important for keeping your pulse on what’s current in the Chinese digital eco-systen.

With users able to see posts from anyone content can more easily become viral. Just be warned that Alibaba (China’s largest ecommerce giant) now have a large stake in the platform and are imposing limitations on links outside of their own platforms. For e-commerce & sales links to Taobao & Tmall are not restricted.

14. Key Opinion Leaders (KOL)

Key Opinion Leaders (KOL’s) are also a popular conversation topic currently, these are online celebrities with large, impressionable followings in a range of different sectors. KOL’s or Influencers have large active followings that can be tapped into by recruiting them to represent your business or brand.

KOL’s or celebrities with large followings come at a price and are not for lower budget projects, typically you want to select KOLs with over 100 000 followers but can choose a variety to create an ‘echo chamber’ effect. You essentially pay for the post exposure but should construct this yourself with the best text & images selected.

It’s also important to monitor the comments closely for user feedback and queries. The Influencer cannot be expected to act as customer service rep so ensure you are active when it comes to responding and incorporate post analysis.

15. Don't neglect Chinese forums

A powerful strategy is to tap into the large and active user to user groups on Chinese forums. The forum in the west is largely outdated but in China it’s still powerful.

Large communities gather on Zhidao, Tieba (Baidu Owned), Zhihu & Tianya. There are host of different threads where qualified and targeted conversations can be identified that are relevant to your brand or business.

The other benefit is that forum posts rank highly on search engines like Baidu, thus contributing to your visibility. In addition user to user feedback and posts are highly influential in a more collectivist society. Consumers really care about the feedback of other consumers, this emphasizes the need to control and promote a positive reputation in forums.

16. Ecommerce is not about the biggest players

Ecommerce in China is not just about ‘Tmall’ & ‘Jingdong’, the two largest sites. For large brands and product launches with significant funding these are great platforms in terms of the traffic they drive, however they are not a ‘magic bullet’. Even with Tmall & JD exposure you need to back your store up with a comprehensive marketing strategy on a range of platforms (such as those explored above).

For smaller to medium sized product launches smaller platforms such as ‘Little Red Book’, Taobao Global & WeChat stores are more cost effective in terms of the initial outlay required. Consider the most intelligent way to invest your budget when it comes to e-commerce exposure and establishing your sales infrastructure in China.

17. Focus on the larger cosmopolitan cities

The East Coast of Mainland China is where the largest cosmopolitan centres of Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou & Shenzhen lie. These urban centres & surrounding area’s are typically area’s many businesses focus on when entering the Chinese market, largely because they have the largest populations of middle class consumers in a more densely focused area.

E-commerce developments have opened-up the scope for marketing to consumers across this vast nation with Alibaba’s delivery infrastructure now the most extensive in the world in terms of the number of units and distance covered.

Digital marketing evidently is not tied to a specific location but strategy can be targeted based on location through IP addresses and regional information attached to users’ accounts. It all depends on what type of business and product type you offer.

18 Re-targeting

4-6% of traffic on average converts, if you engage in targeting the most qualified traffic this can increase to 10% but on average 95% of traffic does not convert after the first visit. One way of tackling this is re-targeting, an impression is left by a programme on the site which allows that internet user (who has previously visited) to be tracked and re-targeted with more, relevant content.

This is successful as users already have an interest in your site and to some degree are engaged with your concept, pushing relevant offers and promotions to them increases conversion rates the next times around. Baidu, like Google, offers re-targeting services but is less display ad focused, more PPC (Pay Per Click). Re-Targeting does not drive traffic to the site initially but allows you to make more of it, even when it has bounced from the page.

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18 Strategies for the Chinese Market

With over 350 million middle class consumers, GDP growth of 7% year on year & powerful online eco-system for marketing & sales China certainly offers the greatest potential for savvy business.