In 2017, China’s economic miracle has been well documented. The nation with its 1.4 billion strong population and increasing levels of wealth has become renowned as the most lucrative potential market for businesses and services on the planet. The nation’s GDP is increasing by around 7% year on year with market opportunities growing in line with this. Here I want to explore what characteristics make doing business in China so profitable for international business.
The scale of consumer culture
The size and scale of China’s market place is mind boggling. There are 1.4 billion potential consumers to target. Out of this 350 million are considered to now be ‘middle class’, this is increasing by an estimated rate of 5% year on year.
With rising disposable incomes comes a rampant consumer culture from a nation that has historically been deprived of such freedoms. Growing levels of wealth are reflected through purchases in a country obsessed with status and reputation, in China this concept is called ‘keeping face’.
Consumer culture is now in it’s heyday in China as a whole new generation of millennials grow up in a very different, modern and more international China than ever before. The range of products and services available is expanding at breakneck speed with most global companies searching for a slice of this lucrative pie.
In China, ‘international’ reflects quality
With the new wave of middle class, Chinese citizens comes changing standards and expectations. This is very important as quality and product authenticity becomes a greater priority.
In China ‘international’ represents quality in the minds of consumers. The market has long been associated with fake and counterfeit products which has produced a strong backlash against poorer quality, domestic offerings. Comsumer trends are moving towards prioritizing foreign goods and services.
When it comes to branding it is vital that this quality is communicated through the most efficient portals. In China the most effective methods are online.
The importance of digital presents huge opportunities
It’s not an overstatement to say that EVERYTHING in China is going digital. There are now 850 million online users that are connected via three dominant platforms. Baidu (the largest search engine with a 70% market share), Tencent’s WeChat, which boasts 800 million registered accounts on its social network, and Alibaba’s e-commerce empire including Taobao and Tmall.
Digital strategy on these platforms of concentrated, engaged users reflects a revolution in cross border marketing and e-commercial opportunities.
The digital infrastructure for growth is advanced
Tapping into this largely captive audience in China on the major platforms allows brands and services to reach more potential customers than ever before.
You must realize that the internet in China is ring fenced by the ‘Great Firewall’, this essentially cuts the online market place off from the rest of the web. This results in a largely captive audience of 850 million online consumers that are only exposed to what they see in this closed system. It means they are very impressionable and influenced by the reputation and visibility of a company online on the Chinese internet.
The barriers for entry also create opportunities with fewer competitors. This is changing and business needs to act fast to capitalize on the most effective Mandarin keywords.. First to market ahead of domestic competition is vital.
Only a small market-share yields substantial results
With so many online users you can target specific niches and communities on these major Chinese platforms. There is room for a huge variety of specialized businesses that only need a small share in of a 1.4 billion population to be highly profitable.
This grants room and space for new, innovative projects in the Chinese market which has proved time and time again to be flexible, adaptable and embrace change. Forward thinking businesses and marketers will thrive in such an environment if their business proposition is right.
Chinese consumers are less suspicious of marketing efforts
This is not often discussed but there is now direct translation of ‘marketing’ into Mandarin Chinese. It is a new concept and therefore consumers are less suspicious and cynical of advertising efforts. They are happier to form loyal relationships with companies who provide a quality service and do not see promotional efforts as being contrived in the same way we do in the west.
This allows companies to build quality customer loyalty programmes with far more customer engagement and more advanced feedback loops. It also translates into more reliable project analytics and metrics for measuring success.
The Chinese Market : how to grow your business
How can you generate leads and grow your business online in China?
1) A Quality Chinese Website
The Chinese site should feature quality Mandarin content, be optimized for Chinese keyword searches, hosted on a Chinese server and set up with a .cn domain.
Chinese sites are the most effective way of driving traffic and generating leads, they serve as a key portal linking to content and activities on other platforms.
Here is the CrossiEurope website we developed. It represents their luxury image for the Chinese market and eloquently explains their concept of luxury river cruises across Europe, their packages are highlighted as a new and different high end experience for the discerning Chinese traveller.
2) Being highly visible on Search Engines
The next step is to improve your visibility on Baidu, China’s largest search engine with 70% of all searches conducted here. You achieve this through SEO (Search Engine Optimization) techniques such as generating backlinks, references, site auditing and by creating quality Mandarin content.
Baidu (like Google), rewards original content so it is important to be active in producing and sharing Chinese specific content to targeted communities.
Damac Properties, the luxury real estate agency in Dubai, raised their profile on Baidu to rank on the first page of the natural search results by utilizing our expertise in SEO. This drove a record 120 serious property investor leads to the company in a single month.
3) Forum Reputation.. Still Wildly Popular
Forums such as Baidu Tieba, Zhihu, Douban, Tianya and QQ are very important in China. Your reputation is everything in China. Consumers are particularly wary of new businesses and research intensively online, they have often been cheated before and with more money to spend want to make the best investment.
Forum threads will often appear above an official website on Baidu’s search results, particularly Baidu’s own forum ‘Tieba’ and ‘Zhihu’, a popular Q&A forum. This underscores the importance of building your reputation amongst these active and targeted communities. Starting conversations, promoting relevant topics and asking questions is important.
in 2017, the Chinese care greatly about the views and opinions of others online, perhaps because it is a more collectivist society. The Chinese Market and consumers also place great importance on social status; international brands need to create this status in order to attract early adopters to your product or service.
A good example was the drive by Vancouver Fashion Week to improve their awareness amongst Chinese fashion conscious communities. Partnering with Gentlemen we raised over 200 topics in Chinese forums with 10 000 responses. The Fashion Week became the 5th most popular topic in the two week run up to the event in the forums ‘Douban’ and ‘Tianya’.
4) Social Media as a Launching Pad
Social networks are a vital launch pad in China. WeChat, the largest social network platform, now boasts over 850 million registered accounts whilst Weibo, a popular micro blogging platform, has 250 million active monthly users. The scale of social media uptake is hard to comprehend, WeChat in particular, is the lifeblood of modern China. Users are spending an average of 1.5 hours per day on the app, more time equates to more interactions and exposure to your content.
On WeChat you can build a ‘mini site’ which is hosted within the app itself. This can act as a customer service platform and is a vital way to present your company. The sharing of content to followers and the sharing of this on users ‘moments feeds’ plays an important role in branding and reputation.
Weibo, literally ‘micro blog’ is a more open social network with users able to see posts from anyone, it is a key site for Chinese cyber celebrities or ‘influencers’ who have built large, impressionable followings around themselves. It is important to recruit these figures to represent and promote a new market entry product. It’s costly but for building a reputation is indispensable.
Two key brands from the Pierre Fabre Group; ‘Klorane’ and ‘Rene Furterer’ focused on building their Weibo following with Gentlemen Marketing in a targeted and effective way. Over the course of our successful campaign they attracted 50 000 new followers on Weibo and 1.5 million page views. Rene Furterer attracted 60 000 new followers and 2.1 million page views. 100 influencers from the platform approached the brands to represent them building the foundations for better, more targeted community based strategy in the future.
5) Independent APPS are emerging
Smaller, independent APPs are also gaining traction, in such a large market place there is room for smaller, innovative new social-commerce apps such as ‘Little Red Book’. This is a social network as well as a sales platform, users can share their purchases, leave reviews and instant message. It has become popular to picture yourself with an item purchased and post it on the APP.
‘Madhatter’ another e-retail app have launched a bidding style system with flash offers at lower prices being released periodically to promote engagement with the store.
The Chinese Market in 2017
In the complex Chinese market it is vital to have your ear to the ground and keep abreast of the constant changes in order to grow and profit from this huge wealth of potential consumers.